Dawn blitz to trap terror chief

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Up to 200 al-Qaeda fighters have been surrounded by the Pakistani army in an overnight gunbattle that stretched across a 30km area on the Afghan border.

“We are pounding the area with mortars and artillery to soften the stiff resistance before making a final push in the next few hours,” a security official said.

“We are going to use whatever forces we need,” Maj Gen Shaukat Sultan said.

Several Pakistani government officials have said al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s No.2, is in the area trying to avoid capture.

In an interview with CNN, Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf said there were “indications that a senior figure was surrounded, but at this point we are not certain who it is.”

The strength of the resistance indicated there was a “high-value” target in the area, General Musharraf said.

The US Department of Defence said it had no independent intelligence to confirm al-Zawahiri was in the area.

Pakistan was named a “major non-NATO ally” by the US during a visit by Secretary of State Colin Powell earliers this week.

US officials said they were watching to see if the Pakistani actions send militant fighters moving back to Afghanistan, where US troops operate freely.