( dpa ) - Islamic militants have abandoned a strategic Pakistani border fort they had seized in a surprise action in the country's tribal region bordering Afghanistan, the Army said Thursday.
"The insurgents left the Sararogha Fort in South Waziristan late Wednesday, and it is no more under their control," said the Army's chief spokesman, Major General Athar Abbas.
More than 200 tribal fighters attacked the fort Tuesday night with rockets and small arms and captured it after more than a four-hour firefight.
The Army said 40 rebels and seven paramilitary soldiers from the Frontier Corps died in the attack while 15 were still missing.
However, there were conflicting reports and claims about the casualties and numbers of attackers.
A spokesman for pro-Taliban commander Beitullah Mehsud claimed responsibility for the raid and said Mehsud's fighters had killed 16 troops and captured 24. "We lost only two of our men in the fighting," Maulvi Omar said.
The Dawn newspaper, citing security sources, said at least 22 soldiers died and seven more were taken hostage by 600 to 700 attackers.
"Soldiers put up a good fight but couldn't hold out for long in the face of an overwhelming militant force," a local security official told the newspaper.
The militants reportedly seized arms and ammunition from the fort and demolished it prior to their retreat.
Analysts said the attack was a major setback for the more than 120,000 security forces deployed in the restive border region, where, according to US military intelligence, the al-Qaeda terrorist network is also active.
Pakistani officials have accused Mehsud of ordering several recent suicide bombings targeting security officials and politicians.
They include the gun and bomb attack on former prime minister and opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, who was slain at a political rally in Rawalpindi December 27.