Pakistan orders army to target Taliban leader after bombing

US has $5m bounty on head of militant dubbed 'root cause of all evils'

Baitullah Mehsud, a one time body-builder who has emerged as the deadliest and most feared militant leader in Pakistan, is the focus of a major new military operation in the mountainous wilds of Waziristan - also believed to be the hiding place of Osama bin Laden.

Officials say the army is set to launch a "fully fledged" operation against the Taliban leader in what represents a dramatic expansion of an ongoing effort against militants who have seized parts of the country and set in place a wave of suicide attacks. Already the army has been carrying out softening up operations in areas neighbouring Waziristan; in the coming days it is anticipated it will announce the main assault is underway.

"We have ordered all the law enforcing agencies to start a full-fledged operation against Baitullah Mehsud and his followers," said Owais Ghani, the Governor of the North West Frontier Province, who controls the seven semi-autonomous tribal agencies along the Afghan border. Denouncing Mr Mehsud as "the root cause of all evils," Mr Ghani said his followers were "the people who are responsible for all of the bombing, terrorism, (and) killing of innocent people."

The decision to expand the operation into Waziristan and to target Mr Mehsud is no doubt partly influenced by the military's success in the Swat valley, where the army claims it has killed over 1,500 militants as it works to drive the Taliban from areas barely 60 miles from Islamabad. But there are clear indications the operation is being readied in coordination with Washington, which in March announced a $5m reward for information leading to the "key al-Qa'ida facilitator's" arrest.

On Sunday, a US pilotless drone killed five suspected militants near Makeen, in South Waziristan, Mr Mehsud's hometown. The previous day, the Pakistani air force pounded the same area and claimed to have killed 30 militants. It is understood that US forces will seek to increase their presence on the Afghanistan side of the border and, coordinating from Islamabad, put pressure from different sides - a tactic that was attempted last year in the Bajaur tribal region.

"There is definitely synergy and close cooperation taking place. They are trying to squeeze the militants from both sides," said Talat Masood, a former general turned analyst. "It's like Bajaur but I think it will be even more serious. This is a tough nut to crack."

Though only aged in his mid-30s, Mr Mehsud, who in 2007 was named as the leader of a loose confederation of militant groups known as the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). has emerged as the most powerful militant leader in Pakistan and the man whose followers are apparently behind the current wave of suicide bombings being carried out in apparent revenge for the army Swat operation. Among his allies are the Swat-based Taliban led by Maulana Fazlullah. Many of the vicious tactics deployed by the militants in Swat - including beheadings, school burnings and the targeted killing of tribal elders - were first introduced by Mr Mehsud. There is also evidence of links between his followers and militants in the Punjab.



"We continue to fight until the last Taliban, militant, enemy of Pakistan is flushed out of Pakistan," said Rehman Malik, head of the interior ministry.

In addition to the Pakistan military and US drones, Mr Mehsud faces the threat from tribal leaders in his area. Qari Zainuddin, a militant leader from within the same tribe, has increasingly spoken out against him. Now backed by Pakistan's security services, Mr Zainuddin is prepared to take the fight to his fellow clansmen. "In the past, people like Zainuddin did not have the army's protection, so they couldn't have much impact," said Hasan Askari-Rizvi, a military analyst at the Lahore University of Management Sciences.

But the operation against Mr Mehsud will be far from easy and is expected to be considerably tougher than the current operation in Swat and several surrounding areas.

The terrain favours hardened guerillas familiar with the area. On three previous occasions - in 2004, 2005 and 2008 - the army has fought, only to then sign truces with Mr Mehsud. On each occasion, he has used the breathing space to reorganise his forces, estimated to total anywhere up to 20,000 fighters.

Sport
Club legend Paul Scholes is scared United could disappear into 'the wilderness'
football
News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Dawkins: 'There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable'
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Travel
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
travel
Arts and Entertainment
music
Sport
football
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

£45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home