LADHA / KALAYA, March 24: At least 24 militants and eight security personnel were killed in clashes in South Waziristan and Orakzai Agencies on Saturday, sources said. Eight troops and four militants were injured.

Gunbattles erupted when security forces during a search operation came across the militants loyal to Hakimullah Mehsud in Shin Warsak and Taza Ghundai areas of South Waziristan.

According to sources, there were intelligence reports that supporters of Hakimullah Mehsud, head of the banned Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, had set up hideouts in an area dominated by the Ahmadzai Wazir tribe. The area is largely controlled by Mullah Nazir, a pro-government militant 'commander'.

The sources said that Mehsud's supporters along with three militant 'commanders' – Abbas, Javid and Noor Islam – had relocated to Shin Warsak and Taza Ghundai areas under an agreement with Mullah Nazir.

The agreement was signed about four months ago. The three commanders, who belong to the Ahmadzai Wazir tribe, were expelled from the area in 2007 after clashes with the Nazir's group.

Security forces launched a search operation in these areas before dawn which continued till 6 in the evening. Clashes took place during the search operation.

An official said that five security personnel were killed and four others injured. Independent sources in the area reported that the army had suffered 10 casualties.

Officials said that 12 militants died in the gunbattle. They said eight bodies of the militants were brought to the military base in Wana.

Security forces also fired heavy artillery from their bases in Zari Noor and Wana, targeting militant positions.

In Orakzai Agency, 12 militants were killed and four injured when fighting erupted in the restive region's Khadezai area.

Officials said three soldiers were also killed and four others injured in the clashes which started after a patrolling party came under attack.

The slain soldiers were identified as Saleem Khan, Rashid and Amanullah. The injured soldiers were shifted to Kohat. Officials said that a vehicle loaded with explosives was also destroyed.