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By Augustine Anthony
RAWALPINDI, Pakistan (Reuters) - Four suspected militants dressed in army uniforms attacked Pakistan's army headquarters on Saturday, killing four guards and triggering a gun battle in which the gunmen died, military officials said.
The brazen attack on the tightly guarded headquarters in the city of Rawalpindi came as the army prepares a major offensive against Pakistani Taliban militants in their northwestern stronghold on the Afghan border.
The gunmen drove in a white van to a main gate at the sprawling complex, and opened fire and threw at least one grenade when challenged, security officials said.
The gunmen then exchanged fire with soldiers for about 40 minutes.
"The situation is under control ... all the gunmen have been killed," army spokesman Major-General Athar Abbas later told Geo Television.
Four guards at the gate's checkpost were killed, he said.
Television pictures showed the white van, its doors open, where the gunmen abandoned it by concrete barriers outside the gate.
Abbas and other military officials said all four gunmen had been killed but a security official said two had been captured.
Al Qaeda-linked Islamist militants have launched numerous attacks in Pakistan over the past couple of years, most aimed at the security forces and government and foreign targets. The militants have attacked military targets in Rawalpindi before.
The attack came a day after a suspected suicide car-bomber killed 49 people in the city of Peshawar in an attack the government said underscored the need for the all-out offensive.
Early this year, the militants pushed to within 100 km (60 miles) of Islamabad, raising fears for nuclear-armed Pakistan's stability. An exasperated U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the government appeared to be "abdicating" to the militants.
The United States needs Pakistani help against militants crossing into Afghanistan to battle U.S.-led forces there.
But in late April the security forces launched a sustained offensive in the Swat valley, 120 km (80 miles) northwest of Islamabad, largely clearing Taliban from the region.
The militants suffered another big blow on August 5, when their overall leader, Baitullah Mehsud, was killed in an attack by a missile-firing U.S. drone aircraft in South Waziristan.
Mehsud's death and reports of infighting about who would take over as leader raised hopes that the militants were in disarray.
But in recent weeks violence has been picking up after a relative lull following Mehsud's killing.
The government ordered the army to go on the offensive in South Waziristan in June and security forces have been launching air and artillery strikes, while moving in troops, blockading the region and trying to split off factions.
The army has declined to say when it would send in ground troops.
(Additional reporting by Kamran Haider; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Jerry Norton)