Pakistan Army takes fight to Taliban in South Waziristan
Gen. David Petraeus, head of the US Central Command, is due to arrive in Islamabad on Monday for talks with Pakistani commanders.
A three-pronged offensive deep into Taliban territory entered its second day on Sunday as heavy fighting between the Pakistan Army and the Taliban left 60 militants and six soldiers dead, according to officials.Skip to next paragraph
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Gen. David Petraeus, head of the US Central Command, is due to arrive in Islamabad on Monday for talks with Pakistani commanders regarding what observers have called the "mother of all battles," highlighting the importance Washington attaches to the offensive.
Codenamed "Rah-i-Nijat" or "The Path to Salvation," the operation is taking place in the Taliban heartland of South Waziristan, a barren, mountainous region spanning some 6,620 square kilometers. It has been described as an Al Qaeda safe haven where 80 percent of terrorist attacks in Pakistan are planned.
According to retired Brig. Shaukat Qadir, a military analyst, securing the territory will be crucial in preventing militants from carrying out the kind of deadly attacks that have killed more than 150 Pakistanis over the past two weeks.
"After [Swat Valley], this was the last bastion that was available to the terrorist structure in Pakistan. It means they will not have any territory they will be able to fall back upon," he says.
The country is also bracing for retaliatory attacks with major cities on high alert. Nearly 100 arrests of suspected terrorists were made in the garrison city of Rawalpindi on Monday while a search operation was conducted in the vicinity of the Army's General Headquarters, which militants were able to successfully storm last week. In the eastern city of Lahore, three private schools were closed due to security threats.
Army encircles Taliban stronghold town
According to Express 24/7, a private news channel, the military is closing in on the town of Makeen, a militant stronghold in South Waziristan, from three directions: Razmak to the north, Shakai to the southwest, and Jandola to the southeast. The area is also being bombed according to reports.
The Army claims to have destroyed six anti-aircraft gun positions and numerous hideouts, though these claims have not been independently verified.
Two divisions, totaling 28,000 troops are engaged in the battle, while estimates of enemy numbers vary. There are thought to be between 10,000-20,000 Mehsud tribesmen behind their leader Hakimullah Mehsud, who is also chief of the Pakistani Taliban. In addition, there are believed to be a core of foreign fighters, predominantly Uzbek, who number in the hundreds and are crucial in giving Hakimullah an edge, according to Qadir, the analyst.