Pakistan moves troops into Taliban stronghold

Pakistan moved large contingents of troops into the Taliban stronghold of South Waziristan on Oct. 17, beginning a long-anticipated ground offensive against Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants in treacherous terrain, the Pakistani Army said.

CA Online and wire services

2009-10-20

ISLAMABAD — Pakistan moved large contingents of troops into the Taliban stronghold of South Waziristan on Oct. 17, beginning a long-anticipated ground offensive against Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants in treacherous terrain, the Pakistani Army said.

Military spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said the attack would be launched from three directions.

The operation is the most ambitious to date by the Pakistani Army against Taliban militants, who unleashed a torrent of attacks against top security installations in the past two weeks in anticipation of the assault. The militants’ targets included army headquarters in Rawalpindi, where planning for the new offensive has been underway for four months.

Western nations pressed the Pakistani Army to move ahead with the campaign in South Waziristan, arguing that it was vital for Pakistan to show resolve against the Al-Qaeda-fortified Pakistani Taliban, who now have a vast and dedicated network of militant groups arrayed against the state, including those nurtured by Pakistan to fight India.

The civilian government met with army Chief of Staff Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani on Oct. 16, and granted him permission for the operation.

In the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), civilian officials said that soldiers were advancing in a pincer movement from government areas in Razmak in the north into Makeen, from Wana in the west into Kani Gurram, and from Jandola in the east into Spinkai Raghzai.

In the last few days, fighter jets have hammered the mountainous operations centre of the Taliban, now led by Hakimullah Mehsud, according to civilians in Wana who reported the development by telephone.

Most of the areas the army is headed into are at heights of between 1,800 and 2,300m. The region, inside a ring of the government-held towns of Jandola, Razmak and Shakhai, is the homeland of the Mehsud tribe whose men are reputed to be the fiercest fighters in Pakistan.

About 28,000 soldiers are involved in the operation in South Waziristan, and are set to face about 10,000 militants, an army official said. About 1,500 particularly tough Uzbek fighters are at the core of the Taliban in the mountainous enclave, they said.

The military is confident that the soldiers can retake and hold the Mehsud area, the official asserted.

[NYT.com]

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