Monday, June 15, 2009

the army conducted softening-up operations ahead of an assault on the stronghold of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, one of al Qaeda's main

TO BE NOTED: From Reuters AlertNet:

15 Jun 2009 11:53:00 GMT
Source: Reuters
REUTERS/Ali Imam" name="mainimage" border="0" width="193" height="138">
Previous | Next
An internally displaced girl, who fled a military offensive in the Swat valley region, looks through a tear in the food distribution tent at the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) Jalozai camp, about 140 km (87 miles) north west of Pakistan's capital Islamabad June 14, 2009.
(For full coverage on Pakistan, click on [ID:nSP102615]) * Military prepares assault on Taliban leader's stronghold * Security tightened in capital in case of reprisals * Terrain and presence of civilians poses problems By Kamran Haider ISLAMABAD, June 15 (Reuters) - Pakistan braced for militant reprisals on Monday as the army conducted softening-up operations ahead of an assault on the stronghold of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, one of al Qaeda's main allies. Military experts see the showdown in remote South Waziristan as a possible Waterloo for al Qaeda and its allies as the government has demonstrated a fighting spirit hitherto lacking in Pakistan. "We continue to fight until the last Taliban, militant, enemy of Pakistan is flushed out of Pakistan," Interior Minister Rehman Malik told police in Islamabad on Monday. Extra police roadblocks caused unusually long traffic tailbacks in the capital on Monday morning as Rehman feared more bomb attacks like those that killed eight people in Dera Ismail Khan on Sunday and nine in a Peshawar hotel last week. U.S. officials say they believe the Pakistan army has started a big push into Mehsud's mountainous redoubt, and on Sunday Awais Ahmed Ghani, governor of North West Frontier Province, confirmed an operation had been ordered. The United States heaved a sigh of relief when the army went on the offensive in late April to clear the Swat valley and neighbouring districts northwest of the capital, Islamabad. The start of a campaign against Mehsud will doubly reassure Western allies, who fear the nuclear-armed Muslim state could plunge into chaos unless the Taliban's creeping advances are stopped. Waziristan has long been regarded as a militant sanctuary, and al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden passed through the area before disappearing after fleeing Afghanistan in late 2001. Military and intelligence officials told Reuters the main operation has not yet started, though a countdown has begun. There have been a series of actions in recent days, including the bombing of a Mehsud village on Saturday, and an army assault on militant tribesmen in the nearby Bannu district, while two forts in Waziristan came under heavy attack from Mehsud fighters. A Reuters journalist saw military columns moving towards the Mehsud lands, and families fleeing the area. "There are hardly any civilian families left there, just Taliban and their families," said Abdul Rahim Mehsud, a villager who had abandoned his home to stay with relatives in Tank, the last town on the road into South Waziristan. FEW PLACES LEFT TO RUN The Pakistan army, for all its firepower, faces a difficult campaign given the terrain, the presence of women and children, and the desperation of their foes. "It's going to be a tough battle initially because this is going to be their final battle," retired brigadier Asad Munir, a former Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) officer, told Reuters. "It is for their survival so all of them are going to join together, the jihadis, sectarian groups, foreigners, al-Qaeda. "If they take over South Waziristan there'll be no place for al Qaeda leaders to hide." Missile attacks by U.S. drone aircraft have largely targeted North and South Waziristan, the two most militant prone of Pakistan's seven semi-autonomous tribal lands bordering Afghanistan. CIA Director Leon Panetta said last week he believed bin Laden was still in Pakistan, but U.S. officials have told journalists that some al Qaeda fighters have begun moving to Yemen and Somalia as Pakistan had become too risky. While the main focus remains Swat and Waziristan, the military has also been hitting militant positions across the northwest, with airstrikes and helicopter gunship raids in Bajaur and Mohmand on Sunday, and in Orakzai last week. The Swat operation is in its last stages, but over 2 million people have fled the combat zone since fighting broke out in late April, and the prospect of more abandoning their homes in Waziristan will add to worries over a humanitarian crisis. The United States and United Nations are leading efforts to raise funds to help Pakistan cope. The insecurity weighed on sentiment in the share market and the main index lost 1.51 percent <.KSE> on Monday, as investors found little solace in an annual budget that underlined a dependence on financial aid from friendly governments worried about Pakistan's future. (Writing by Simon Cameron-Moore; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)

No comments: