Pakistani jets hit militant compounds in Waziristan
Pakistani aircraft bombed Taliban on Sunday in their bastion of South Waziristan on the Afghan border after the militants attacked two military camps, killing two soldiers, officials and residents said.
The military, near the end of an offensive in the northwestern Swat Valley after two months of fighting, is preparing to launch a new drive in South Waziristan, where Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud is based.
The decision to go on the attack against the militants came after Taliban gains raised fears of the militants gradually taking over more of the country and even posing a risk to Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.
The campaign has broad public support and has also won the praise of close ally the United States, which needs Pakistan to go after the militants as it tries to defeat al Qaeda and stabilise Afghanistan.
Sunday’s air strikes were on two villages in Laddah district, a Mehsud stronghold, and two militant compounds were destroyed, said a government official and residents.
“It was a heavy bombing. Two militant compounds and several houses have been completely destroyed. We’re trying to get casualty figures,” said the government official in South Waziristan’s main town of Wana.
The official declined to be identified as he is not authorised to speak to the media about military operations.
The air strikes came after militants attacked an army and a paramilitary camp, both east of Wana, on Saturday night, killing two soldiers and wounding four, said the official.
The government has said Mehsud, who carries a $5 million US reward on his head, and his force of thousands of followers must be defeated.
Mehsud, who security analysts say has become increasingly close to al Qaeda, has been accused of a string of attacks in Pakistani towns and cities including the December 2007 assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.
Mehsud is allied with Afghan Taliban fighters but they tend to concentrate on attacking US-led forces in Afghanistan to force them to leave and they are not the focus of the Pakistani offensive.
South Waziristan resident Ahmadullah Mehsud said the home of a Taliban commander came under attack on Sunday but he did not know whether the commander was there at the time.
Most civilians have fled the area in fear of the looming military assault.
According to military estimates, 45,000 people have been displaced from South Waziristan.
Nearly 2 million people have fled from fighting in Swat and other parts of the northwest since late last year but aid workers are not expecting a huge exodus from South Waziristan as the population there is relatively small.
Also, many people have winter homes on the low-land to the east and traditionally migrate to higher-altitude South Waziristan with their flocks for summer grazing.
High civilian casualties in the fighting would raise the risk of an erosion of public support for the offensive.
(Additional reporting by Javed Hussain; Writing by Kamran Haider; Editing by Robert Birsel and Jerry Norton)