Pakistani soldiers killed 12 militants in gunbattles over the past day, officials said Saturday, as government forces pressed on with their offensive in the mountainous Taliban sanctuary of South Waziristan.
The military said while the army has taken control of two former strongholds _ Sararogha and Ladha _ there were still occasional clashes with militants. The army was still battling for full control of Makeen, which they call the "nerve center" of the Pakistani Taliban.
The fighting left a total of 12 militants dead and five Pakistani soldiers wounded over the past 24 hours, the military said in a statement, adding large numbers of weapons and ammunition had been found, some hidden in deep tunnels dug in the hills.
"The fight against militancy ... is a long and tough battle as we have to not only fight the extremists but also the extremist mindset," President Asif Ali Zardari told a group of lawmakers Friday night, according to his spokesman. "The adversary in this battle should not be underestimated."
In mid-October, Pakistan launched an offensive in South Waziristan, a semiautonomous tribal region along the Afghan border where the government has seldom had significant influence, and which has become the main Taliban and al-Qaida sanctuary in the country. The military says hundreds of militants have been killed in the fighting _ a claim the Taliban dismisses.
The reality of the situation remains unclear. While refugees fleeing the area have reported fierce fighting, there have been few specific details. Journalists are not allowed into the region except on carefully orchestrated government trips.
The offensive has sparked a wave of retaliatory attacks across Pakistan.
In the neighboring tribal region of North Waziristan, people who fled the fighting say they are not receiving help from the Pakistani government, which has set up aid distribution centers far to the south.
Instead, the displaced people have been forced to rely on help from tribal elders who have established a series of camps.
"I have no means to go and get government help," said Zaman Khan, a Makeen shopkeeper who fled with his four children, his parents and other relatives. They are now living in one room in the town of Khaisur Sharif.
About 350,000 people have fled the fighting, of whom about 20,000 are believed to be in North Waziristan.
Associated Press writers Hussain Afzal in Parachinar and Rasool Dawar in Mir Ali contributed to this report.