Last Taliban stronghold captured by Pakistan army

House of slain militant commander demolished in symbolic revenge
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The Independent Online

Pakistani troops pushing deeper into South Waziristan yesterday razed the house of the militant leader Baitullah Mehsud, killed by a US drone strike this summer, as they assaulted the last of three Taliban strongholds.

Troops struck the village of Makeen, a major militant base and home town of the former Taliban leader. Officials said his house was destroyed in symbolic revenge for the hundreds of people killed by the Taliban. The soldiers are said to have met little resistance.

In the capital Islamabad, an army brigadier was leaving his home when gunmen on a motorcycle shot and wounded him, then sped away, the third such attack on senior army officers in two weeks. A soldier with the brigadier was also wounded; both were in civilian clothes. Hospital officials said the condition of both victims was stable. It is unknown whether the senior officer was involved in the South Waziristan operation.

The Pakistani authorities are keen to portray that operation, launched three weeks ago to target Taliban and al-Qa'ida fighters, as one that is steadily gathering momentum and has the militants on the run. Earlier this week intelligence officials shared with journalists what they said was an intercepted speech by the Pakistani Taliban leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, who warned his fighters that they will go to hell if they flee the army offensive.

"Remember, this is the commandment of God, that once fighting starts with the enemy you cannot leave the battlefield without permission from your commander, and don't look for excuses to run away from the fighting," he said, according to the Associated Press. "We are in jihad and we should not pay heed to the whispers of Satan. We should sacrifice our lives for Islam so that we can feel pride on the day of judgement."

Details of the South Waziristan incursion are impossible to verify because the army has ensured the conflict zone is effectively off-limits to the media. Makeen is the third of three strategic targets the military wanted to seize. The army claims that troops have already seized control of the other two, Sararogha and Ladha, and say that hundreds of insurgents have already been killed in the fighting; claims the Taliban deny.

The militants have launched a series of retaliatory strikes on civilian and official targets across Pakistan that have killed at least 300 people. Two weeks ago, other gunmen on a motorcycle shot and killed a brigadier and a soldier in an army jeep in what was believed to be the first assassination of an army officer in the capital. Less than a week later, gunmen attacked yet another brigadier as he was driving to a bank with his mother, but the pair escaped unharmed.

In the north-west of the country, police yesterday shot and killed two would-be suicide bombers. Police official Sajid Ali said the men opened fire on officers when their car was intercepted at a checkpoint in Balakot, a town in the North West Frontier Province. Police found two suicide vests and two bombs in the vehicle, said Mr Ali.

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