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Pakistan Kills 30 Militants In Air Strike

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) -- A Pakistani air strike killed 30 militants in mountains on the Afghan border today, the military said, as one of NATO's biggest offensives against the Taliban continued in Afghanistan itself.

Pakistani security forces launched a major campaign against the Al-Qaeda-backed Pakistani Taliban in their main haven of South Waziristan in October and the military has captured most militant bases in the region.

The air raid was in Shawal, a militant bastion near the border of the South and North Waziristan regions, where many Taliban are believed to have sought refuge from the October offensive. Al-Qaeda militants are also known to be in the area.

The security forces, as well as attacking indigenous Taliban who are trying to bring down the U.S.-backed government, have also stepped up action against Afghan Taliban in Pakistan, arresting at least three senior members, including their No. 2 man, this month.

"The hideout in Shawal was targeted after we were tipped off that terrorists were hiding in the mountains," a military spokesman said, adding 30 of them had been killed.

There was no independent verification.

Pakistan's ethnic Pashtun tribal areas have been a global militant hub since Islamist fighters flocked there to battle Soviet forces over the border in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is believed to be hiding somewhere along the Afghan-Pakistani border.

'More Robust'

Apart from the Afghan campaign, the United States has also been attacking militants in northwestern Pakistan with missile-firing unmanned drone aircraft.

A son of the leader of a major Afghan Taliban faction attacking Western forces in Afghanistan was killed in a strike by a drone in North Waziristan on February 18.

The killing of Mohammad Haqqani, son of veteran Afghan guerrilla commander Jalaluddin Haqqani, came days after the arrest of the Afghan Taliban's top military strategist, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, in a joint Pakistani-U.S. operation in Karachi.

Two other senior Taliban members have been picked up in Pakistan in recent days, according to Afghan officials.

On February 17, the son of an Egyptian-born Canadian militant was killed in a U.S. drone attack in North Waziristan, Pakistani security officials and Taliban said.

They identified the dead man as Mansoor and said he was the son of Al-Qaeda figure Ahmed Said Khadr, nicknamed al-Canadi, "the Canadian." Khadr was killed in a Pakistani Army attack in South Waziristan in 2003.

Pakistani cooperation with the United States is a sensitive issue for the government of a country where many people are suspicious of the U.S.-led campaign against militancy.

The Pakistani Army was being far more robust and cooperative with the United States, a security analyst said.

"There is a definite qualitative change in the relationship...there is a greater level of cooperation," said Talat Masood, a retired army general turned analyst.

But the militants are fighting back.

A policeman was killed and three wounded in a suicide bomb attack in the northwestern town of Balakot, police said.

Police shot dead another bomber in the nearby town of Mansehra as he tried to force his way into a police station.