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By Ibrahim Shinwari
LANDIKOTAL, Pakistan (Reuters) - A roadside bomb killed seven Pakistani soldiers in the northwestern Khyber region on the Afghan border on Saturday, hours after warplanes struck suspected Taliban positions in a neighbouring tribal area, officials said.
The rough and rugged tribal territory separating Pakistan and Afghanistan is a stronghold for Taliban insurgents from both countries as well as a haven for al Qaeda operatives.
Saturday's bomb hit a vehicle carrying paramilitary troops on a routine patrol in Sur Khar, about 50 km (30 miles) east of the region's main town, Landikotal, a Frontier Corps spokesman said.
"The vehicle was completely destroyed and seven of our soldiers were killed," he said.
The military launched an operation in Khyber in September after militants tried to expand their activities, including kidnappings and killings, into neighbouring Peshawar, the capital of North West Frontier Province.
Supplies trucked through the region for Western forces in Afghanistan have frequently come under Taliban attack, forcing the United States and its Western allies to seek safer routes via central Asia.
Southeast of Khyber, Pakistani warplanes bombed Taliban positions and destroyed 11 hideouts, killing 13 militants, a government official said.
Pakistan's army went on a massive offensive against Taliban militants in the South Waziristan region three weeks ago after a spate of suicide attacks, including a brazen raid on the army headquarters near Islamabad, killed over 150 people.
Security forces have captured Kotkai, an important strategic town and birthplace of Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud, and surrounded a hub of Uzbek militants, the military said.
According to military figures, 264 militants and 33 soldiers have been killed in the fighting. There is no independent verification of casualty figures as journalists have been barred from visiting the war-zone.
(Additional reporting by Javed Hussain; Writing by Kamran Haider; Editing by David Fox and Dean Yates)