Pakistan battles in Taliban leader's hometown

Pakistani soldiers fighting inside the hometown of the Pakistani Taliban leader gained ground today as they pressed ahead with a major offensive on a militant sanctuary close to the Afghan border, intelligence officials said.

The advances came as intelligence officials said suspected US missiles killed three alleged militants in a neighboring region where the army has tried to convince other insurgent factions to stay neutral during the military assault in South Waziristan.

The five-day-old offensive is considered a critical test of the nuclear-armed country's often-criticized campaign against Islamist extremists blamed for soaring attacks at home and on Western forces in neighboring Afghanistan.

Troops had secured parts of Kotkai town and destroyed the home of Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud by Wednedsay, but battles were ongoing, two officials told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Yesterday, twin suicide bombings killed six people at Islamabad's International Islamic University in apparent retaliation for the offensive. All educational institutions in the country were closed today, showing the militants' ability to disrupt daily life.

The military is advancing on three fronts in South Waziristan. The fight for Kotkai is symbolically important because Hakimullah Mehsud and a top deputy, Qari Hussain, hail from there. It also lies on the way to another the militant stronghold of Sararogha.

Army spokesmen were not available for comment on the fighting in the town. On Tuesday, militant fighters said they had repelled an army assault on it, and a military spokesman denied a media report that soldiers had retaken it.

Today's missile strikes hit Spalaga, a village in North Waziristan tribal region. Two other intelligence officials said three suspected insurgents were killed, but that the number could rise. They declined to be named because they also were not authorized to speak to media on the record.

The US has launched scores of missiles in South and North Waziristan over the past year, including one that killed former Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud in August.

The latest strike, however, comes at a sensitive time because the army is counting on insurgent groups in North Waziristan staying neutral as it fights Mehsud's faction in South Waziristan. The missile strikes could stir anger among those militants, straining the deals with the army.

Pakistan routinely condemns the missile strikes as violations of its sovereignty, but many observers suspect the two countries have a deal allowing the drone-fired attacks.

It is nearly impossible to independently verify information coming from South Waziristan because the army has closed off all roads to the region. Analysts say both sides have exaggerated successes and downplayed loses in the past.

Chief military spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas cautioned that the fight in South Waziristan could be long.

"This is a mountainous terrain and therefore the operations tend to be slow," Abbas told the AP in an interview yesterday. The militants "are very tough fighters. They know the area, terrain. And they are very determined to fight."

Abbas said the military believed that Hakimullah Mehsud and Qari Hussain remain in the region under fire, directing the militants' defenses. That information is based on local informants and communications intercepts, Abbas said.

The army claims to have killed some 90 militants and to have lost 13 soldiers in the offensive so far.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Ashdown Group: Editor-in-chief - Financial Services - City, London

£60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power