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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Pakistan Says Chechens Triggered 4-Hour Battle

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Al-Qaida fighters believed to be Chechens opened fire on Pakistani troops who had come to arrest them, killing 10 soldiers including two officers, Pakistani authorities said Wednesday.

Two al-Qaida fighters were also killed and one was captured in the home of a tribal elder, officials said. The al-Qaida members were believed to have been Chechens who fled to the remote area near the Afghan-Pakistan border after the U.S. military's Operation Anaconda across the border in southeastern Afghanistan in March.

It was the first combat loss for the Pakistani army since President Pervez Musharraf ordered troops to the border last year to try to intercept al-Qaida and Taliban members fleeing from the U.S. military onslaught.

Pakistani authorities said an intensive operation was under way Wednesday in the area to apprehend more al-Qaida fugitives.

"In an effort to apprehend the al-Qaida elements using minimum force due to concern for safety of the civilian population, 10 security persons" were killed, the Pakistani military said in a statement. "A number of al-Qaida foreign terrorists were also killed."

The statement gave no further details. However, an Interior Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said troops went late Tuesday to the tribal elder's home near the town of Wana after being tipped off by U.S. intelligence that al-Qaida members were hiding there.

After surrounding the house, the Pakistanis demanded the al-Qaida members surrender. Instead, the Chechens opened fire, triggering a four-hour gun battle that persisted into Wednesday morning, the official said.

Troops found uniforms, a mortar and al-Qaida literature in the house. There was no indication what happened to the tribal elder.

An army officer said on condition of anonymity that 500 soldiers backed by Pakistani helicopters were deployed to the area after Wednesday's attack to search for more fugitives. Local tribal elders had pledged to help.

Afghans in eastern Afghanistan say that Chechens have been hiding in the border area since fleeing the Afghan village of Shah-i-Kot following Operation Anaconda -- the largest ground offensive by the United States since the war on terror began last year.

Local government buildings and Pakistani troops have occasionally come under brief rocket fire from unknown attackers in the area in recent weeks, but no soldiers have been killed.

On Saturday, Musharraf said Pakistan has arrested about 300 suspected al-Qaida and Taliban fighters in the border area, which is largely outside the control of the central government and dominated by local tribal leaders.

However, Musharraf faces domestic criticism from some conservative religious groups.

In Washington, Air Force Brigadier General John Rosa Jr. told a Pentagon news conference this week that he did not know how many al-Qaida fugitives have slipped into Pakistan. He noted that Lieutenant General Dan McNeill, commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, was quoted recently as saying as many as 1,000 al-Qaida fighters still operate in small groups on both sides of the mountainous border area.