Pakistan's battle with Taliban militants expands north

Many Pakistan Taliban fighters are fleeing an Army offensive in South Waziristan for another tribal agency, Orakzai, where troops killed 22 militants Sunday.

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Pakistan militants are fleeing a military offensive in South Waziristan that has killed hundreds and are regrouping in another tribal agency, Orakzai. Pakistani security forces have followed, killing at least 22 Sunday in a battle in a village bordering Orakzai, which is just 10 miles south of Peshawar, the capital of the North West Frontier Province.

Pakistan's Army says that while the South Waziristan offensive has taken out the country's largest Taliban sanctuary, militants falling back into Orakzai could become the military's next focus, Bloomberg reports. (Click here for a map of Pakistan that includes Orakzai, Peshawar, and South Waziristan.)

Some escaped militants will abandon the Taliban movement and others will continue, making Orakzai the army's possible next target, [Military Spokesman Major General Athar] Abbas said. Pakistani paramilitary troops fought Taliban in Orakzai yesterday, destroying an FM radio station used by the guerrillas, Akhlaq Khan, a spokesman for Orakzai's political agent, said by telephone.
Yesterday's clash continued an escalation of violence in Orakzai, where air force jets have bombed suspected Taliban strongholds this month, killing scores of people, Pakistani news media have reported.

In the village Shahukhel, troops in Sunday's offensive also took out a communications tower and a training camp, according to the Pakistani daily Dawn.

Troops, the sources said, were now targeting militants' hideouts in other part of [Shahukhel] situated in Upper Orakzai from the [Shahukhel] area in Hangu.

Pakistan has waged an offensive against militants in South Waziristan since Oct. 17. The military says more than 500 Taliban and 70 soldiers have been killed in the Waziristan assault, according to Reuters. While the US has welcomed the Waziristan offensive, it is looking for more action as it scouts for ways to disrupt Afghan Taliban factions in the lawless tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, Reuters adds.

Washington is keen to see Pakistan also tackle Afghan Taliban factions based in lawless enclaves along the border.
[Local police official Fareed] Khattak said forces had entered the lawless Orakzai region where many Taliban insurgents had fled. "Now helicopter gunships are striking Taliban hideouts in the agency," he said.

The Pakistani Army says it killed nearly 40 militants Sunday in several operations in the tribal areas, according to the Associated Press. But the AP adds that reporters have little access to this turbulent region, making it difficult to confirm casualty numbers.

Violence resulting from the Pakistani military's offensive in South Waziristan has spilled into nearby cities and towns, especially Peshawar. A suicide bombing near a bustling courthouse Nov. 19 killed at least 19 people, though more could have died had security forces not caught the assailant before he entered the courthouse. The Christian Science Monitor reported that the near-daily attacks on Peshawar in mid-November may indicate that the frontline in the battle against the Taliban is inching closer to the center of the country.

What's not clear is whether such bombings are the last gasp of weakening Taliban fighters – in response to the Pakistani Army offensive in neighboring Waziristan – or a continuing trend.
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