ISLAMABAD - An exchange of fire between the security forces and militants Friday killed five rebels and an army major in North Waziristan Agency near the Afghan border, the military said. Security forces conducted an operation in Datta Khel area of North Waziristan Agency in which the terrorists and Major Zahid Iqbal were killed, reported a private TV channel, quoting the Inter-Services Public Relations.

Iqbal was commissioned in the Pakistan Army in 1999 and leaves behind two sons.  The exchange of fire took place during a cordon and search operation near Datta Khel area of North Waziristan, where the military is carrying out a major offensive against the Taliban and other insurgents. The conflict zone is off-limits to journalists, so there is no way to independently verify the number and identity of those killed.

The military began a long-awaited push to clear insurgent bases from North Waziristan last June after a bloody Taliban attack on Karachi airport finally sank faltering peace talks. Air strikes, artillery, mortars and ground troops have all been used to take back territory. The semi-autonomous tribal areas on the Afghan border have for years been a hideout for Islamist militants of all stripes, including Al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban as well as foreign fighters such as Uzbeks and Uighurs.