Pakistan vows to retake tribal region in 2 months
The Associated Press
Friday, September 26, 2008
KHAR, Pakistan: Pakistan will bring stability to a restive tribal region bordering Afghanistan within two months, a top general said during an assessment of a major ongoing offensive there against al-Qaida and Taliban militants.
Maj. Gen. Tariq Khan told reporters on an army-organized trip to the northwestern Bajur region that troops had killed more than 1,000 militants and wounded 2,000 others since the offensive began in early August.
Some 63 troops have died and 212 were wounded, he said.
"My timeframe for Bajur is anything from between one-and-a-half to two months to bring about stability, said Khan of the paramilitary Frontier Corps.
Still, he also showed reporters photos of militant tunnel systems and trenches, suggesting the insurgents are well dug in the region that is considered a likely hiding place for Osama bin Laden and other top al-Qaida leaders.
Military officials paraded 10 blindfolded and handcuffed men said to be Taliban fighters arrested during the operation before the reporters who joined the trip.
Pakistan's top military spokesman, Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, told The Associated Press in a recent interview that the militants had established a virtual mini-state in Bajur as well as a "mega-sanctuary" for insurgents attacking foreign and government troops in Afghanistan.
He said militants control the main road leading into the tribal area, have converted schools into Islamic courts and have imposed taxes on timber and marble, the region's two main industries.
The Pakistani offensive has used ground forces backed by helicopter gunships and other air support. A suspension was announced at the end of August in honor of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, but within days the fighting resumed.
The militants are led by 10 commanders stationed in various parts of the tribal region, Khan said. Faqir Mohammed, a top Pakistani Taliban leader, is among those coordinating attacks and is believed to have been injured, Khan said.
Abbas said Afghan militants, led by a commander named Ziaur Rehman, have joined the fight. He added that the operation has so far produced no trace of bin Laden or al-Qaida No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahri.