Third key Taliban town falls to Pakistan army

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Pakistani troops entered the last of three Taliban strongholds targeted in a major offensive in the north-west today.

The operation in South Waziristan, the main Taliban and al-Qa'ida sanctuary in Pakistan, has sparked a wave of retaliatory attacks that have killed about 300 civilians and security forces in the past month.

The militants hope the attacks will weaken the army's resolve but it pressed ahead today, entering Makeen, the home of former Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, who was killed in a US missile strike in August.

Troops razed Mehsud's house, an act of vengeance for the hundreds of people the Pakistani Taliban has killed in the country.

Meanwhile in Islamabad gunmen wounded an army brigadier and a soldier as the two drove away from the officer's home.

On 22 October, gunmen on a motorcycle shot and killed a brigadier and a soldier riding 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 another brigadier as he was driving to a bank with his mother, but they escaped unharmed.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, but suspicion fell on the Pakistani Taliban, which has declared war on the government for alleged being un-Islamic and supporting the war on terror.

The Taliban has claimed responsibility for scores of attacks in Pakistan, many of them carried out by suicide bombers. The recent shootings could indicate the militants are turning to targeted assassinations to stoke even more fear.

The Pakistani army has vowed to continue the South Waziristan offensive despite the increase in militant attacks. It says it is now fighting bloody street-to-street battles in each of the three main militant strongholds in the region - Makeen, Sararogha and Ladha.

The military says hundreds of insurgents have been killed in the South Waziristan operation - including 24 in just the last day - and hundreds more have been wounded.

The Pakistani government has been eager to portray the militants as in retreat. Pakistani intelligence officials yesterday revealed an intercepted speech by the current Pakistani Taliban leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, who warned his fighters they will go to hell if they flee the army offensive.