ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Nearly 190,000 people are reported to have fled fighting between Pakistani troops and militants near the border with Afghanistan, the United Nations said Tuesday as fresh clashes in the area killed 17 militants.
Meanwhile, police in the frontier region released a man of dual American-Pakistani citizenship they had arrested Monday in the volatile border region.
Authorities originally described the 20-year-old as a U.S. citizen traveling without the permission foreigners need to enter the region, which has seen of months of fighting between militants and security forces and is considered a possible hiding place for al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.
“After interrogation we found out he holds dual nationality,” Charsadda district police chief Waqif Khan said. “He was roaming in that area just due to his lack of knowledge about the sensitivity there.”
Fighting is spreading across Pakistan’s rugged northwest as the government tries to crack down on insurgents blamed for soaring attacks on U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan and a bloody campaign of suicide bombings against military and western targets within Pakistan.
Most of the clashes are taking place in Bajur, where the Pakistani military launched a major offensive in early August.
The U.N.’s refugee agency said at least 20,000 Pakistanis and Afghans have fled from Bajur into eastern Afghanistan’s Kunar province since the fighting began.
Citing Pakistani statistics, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said in a statement that 168,463 other people had fled to other parts of northwestern Pakistan during the offensive.