Islamist insurgents have withdrawn from a Pakistani military fort they captured near the Afghan border, but 15 soldiers are still missing after the rebel attack, the army said Thursday.
Several hundred militants armed with rocket launchers and Kalashnikov rifles stormed the remote fort at Sararogha town in the South Waziristan tribal district early Wednesday in a major setback for Pakistani forces.
The battle for the fort left seven troops and up to 50 rebels dead, with 20 more soldiers initially reported as missing.
"Miscreants have withdrawn from Sararogha Fort. Five more Frontier Corps troops have reached a nearby village," said a brief military statement, adding that further details would be issued later.
There was no independent confirmation that the militants had abandoned the British colonial-era fort in the rugged tribal zone, a hideout for Taliban and Al Qaeda-linked militants.
Troops also traded fire with militants at another fort in Ladah in South Waziristan after the rebels fired rockets and small-arms, the army said.
Local security officials said that clashes continued overnight in Sararogha, Ladah and another nearby village, but there were no immediate reports of casualties or damage.
Authorities had sought the help of local jirga or tribal council to
trace the rest of missing soldiers, a local administration official told AFP.
The area is said to be a stronghold of Baitullah Mehsud, a tribal warlord with alleged links to Al Qaeda who is accused by the government of masterminding the assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto.
Separately, three rockets were fired at a Pakistan Air Force base in the northern town of Kamra. They fell near a residential area, but caused no damage, the military said.
Last month a suicide car bomber blew himself up in Kamra near a school bus carrying children of air force employees, injuring at least five children.
Taliban and Al Qaeda-linked militancy has intensified in the mountainous tribal belt since Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf ordered troops to crush an uprising at the radical Red Mosque in Islamabad in July. (AFP)
Militants abandon captured Pakistani fort: army