Pakistani forces killed two dozen militants in 24 hours and were closing in on a prominent insurgent stronghold in the mountains of South Waziristan, the army said Friday.

Government soldiers now control the hills above the village of Sararogha, where Taliban leaders long have operated openly, officials said in a statement. The army said during the advance two Pakistani soldiers were killed in a militant mortar attack and three were injured in a bombing.

The Pakistani military launched a ground offensive earlier this month in the rugged, desolate tribally controlled region of South Waziristan, where the Pakistani Taliban are based and are believed to shelter al-Qaeda fighters.

The army has deployed about 30,000 troops to take on some 5,000 to 8,000 militants, a top general said on Thursday during a rare visit to the battle area by journalists. His estimate included up to 1,500 foreign fighters, most of them Uzbeks. Afghan fighters are also reportedly filtering in across the border.

A total of 299 militants and 34 government soldiers have been killed in the offensive, according to a tally of army figures. Six more militants have been arrested.

Access to South Waziristan is heavily restricted, so independently verifying death tolls from fighting is all but impossible.

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