Pakistan's military says it has surrounded militants in a Taliban
stronghold on the third day of an offensive against the group in the
South Waziristan tribal region.
Army spokesman General Athar Abbas said Monday that ground troops backed by air support seized control of key mountain tops around the town of Kotkai. He says says nine soldiers and 78 militants have been killed in fighting since the offensive began Saturday.
There is no independent confirmation of casualties in the fighting because Pakistan's military has blocked access to South Waziristan.
Officials say more than 100-thousand civilians fled the region before the assault, and thousands more left their homes in the past three days. The exodus has prompted fears of a humanitarian crisis ahead of heavy snowfall during the coming winter months.
Pakistani army commanders say about 30-thousand troops are battling about 10-thousand militants, including foreigners. Authorities blame the extremists for a wave of attacks across the country that have killed more than 175 people in the past two weeks.
Pakistani military officials say they expect the South Waziristan offensive to last six to eight weeks, before winter weather makes fighting difficult.