ISLAMABAD - A rescue operation was underway in the Kashmir region after at least 117 Pakistani soldiers were buried in an avalanche Saturday when a wall of snow engulfed their military base. More than 12 hours after the disaster at the entrance to the Siachen Glacier, no survivors had been found.

"We are waiting for news and keeping our fingers crossed," said army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas.

Hundreds of troops, sniffer dogs and mechanical equipment were at the scene, but were struggling to make much headway into the avalanche, which crashed down onto the building in the Gayari sector early in the morning, burying it under some 21 meters (70 feet ) of snow.

Siachen is on the northern tip of the divided Kashmir region claimed by both India and Pakistan. The accident highlighted the risks of deploying troops to one of the most inhospitable places on earth.

The thousands of troops from both nations stationed there brave viciously cold temperatures, altitude sickness, high winds and isolation for months at a time. Troops have been deployed at elevations of up to 6,700 meters (22,000 feet ) and have skirmished intermittently since 1984, though the area has been quiet since a 2003 cease-fire. The glacier is known as the world's highest battlefield.

The headquarters in Gayari, situated at around 4,572 meters (15,000 feet ), is the main gateway through which troops and supplies pass on their way to other more remote outposts in the sector. It is situated in a valley between two high mountains, close to a military hospital, according to an officer who was stationed there in 2003.

More soldiers have died from the weather than combat on the glacier, which was uninhabited before troops moved there.