Overcoming stiff resistance from militants, Pakistan army on Saturday captured the key hometown of Taliban chief in the country's lawless South Waziristan as missiles fired by a US drone in adjacent Bajaur region killed 22 terrorists, but missed by minutes a top commander.
Soldiers entered the Kotkai town late last night under a barrage of bombardment by fighters, attack helicopters and heavy artillery guns to break dogged Taliban defence, which had held them back for four days.
"Kotkai has been captured and all roads leading to the town are under forces' control now," Chief Military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas told reporters.
Kotkai is the hometown of Hakimullah Mehsud and his close aide Qari Hussain, also known as trainer of suicide bombers, and its capture opens the way for troops to assault the Taliban main hubs of Saragoha and Jandola.
"Soldiers are now clearing Kotkai of landmines, booby traps and roadside bombs," Abbas said, claiming that the fall of the town had led to fissures in Taliban ranks and some of the militants were running away from the area.
In the intense tussle for Kotkai, 21 militants and three soldiers were killed, raising Taliban death toll during
Operation Rah-e-Nijat to 171. Pakistan's 22 army personnel have so far been killed in the eight day old campaign.
As the army operation entered a crucial phase, US drones, after a brief lull, today struck a Taliban hideout in
Chuhacra village in Bajaur, killing 22 militants including kin of top Taliban commander Maulvi Faqir Mohamad.