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Three Uzbek Fighters Arrested In Pakistan

Pakistani security forces say they have arrested three Uzbek militants rushing to join the Taliban in the Swat Valley where insurgents are fighting Pakistan's army, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reports.

Officials say the Uzbeks had come to Pakistan from Afghanistan, but gave no details on their identity.

Pakistani Army spokesman General Athar Abbas told RFE/RL that out of some 1,000 militants killed in the Swat Valley during recent clashes, at least 23 are Uzbeks.

Iqbal Khattak, the editor of the Peshawar-based newspaper "Daily Times," says that "wherever tough fighting is going on, they need Uzbeks. Uzbeks are able to use artillery well enough to inflict damage on the regular Pakistani army and fight to the last drop of blood."

Pakistan expert Ahmed Rashid says Uzbek insurgents have enjoyed the support of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in the past and thus never refuse a request to help either group. Rashid said they receive training, facilities, and weapons from Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and it is "presumed that when they are ready to launch an operation into Central Asia they will get support from Al-Qaeda and these groups."

It is not clear how many Central Asians are fighting in Pakistani tribal areas and Afghanistan. Officials say their numbers have gone down, but local observers estimate there are still up to 4,000-5,000 Central Asian militants in the region, with new recruits still arriving.