Pakistani military prepares for South Waziristan showdown

May 26th, 2009 - 6:27 pm ICT by IANS  

Taliban Islamabad, May 26 (IANS) Buoyed by its successes against the Taliban in the northwest, Pakistan’s military is intensifying its fight against the militants in South Waziristan agency and is moving up tanks and heavy artillery.
Quoting sources, Dawn said Tuesday that sporadic clashes between militants and troops were continuing in South Waziristan for the fifth day.

The sources said that troops, backed by tanks, armoured personnel carriers and artillery, left their base at Umar Adda in Tank district for South Waziristan’s Jandola town ahead of a possible assault on the agency.

South Waziristan is the headquarters of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) chief Baitullah Mehsud, who is one of the suspects in the Dec 27, 2007 assassination of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

The sources said that heavy movement of troops had also been witnessed in Thall area of Hangu district, which adjoins the Kurram, North Waziristan and Orakzai regions.

Pakistani warplanes had bombed a number of militants’ positions in Orakzai on Sunday, killing a Taliban commander identified as Ehsanullah, and 12 other militants and destroying huge ammunition dumps and bunkers.

The air strike started at about 8.20 a.m. and continued for more than two hours, officials said.

The military operation in Swat, Buner and Lower Dir districts of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) entered is second month Tuesday, with the security forces reporting significant successes.

The operations had begun April 26 after the Taliban violated a controversial peace accord with the NWFP and moved south from their Swat headquarters to occupy Buner, which is just 100 km from Islamabad.

The operations began from Lower Dir, the home district of Taliban-backed radical cleric Sufi Mohammad, who had brokered the peace deal and whose son-in-law Maulana Fazlullah heads the Swat Taliban.

The security forces subsequently moved into Swat and Buner.

The military says some 1,100 militants have so far been killed in the operations but there is no independent confirmation of this since the media has been barred from the battle zone. The security forces have lost 70 officers and soldiers.

The military operations have triggered the largest and swiftest refugee exodus anywhere in the world in recent times, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says.

The social welfare department of the NWFP government says it has registered 1.45 million refugees at its 22 relief camps but the actual number could be as high as 2.5 million as many of the displaced persons could be staying with friends and relatives.

The UN office in Islamabad said last week $543 million would be required for the rehabilitation of the displaced people. A day earlier, Pakistan had won pledges of $244 million at a donors conference in Islamabad.

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