Mehsud's town surrounded

Mehsud's town surrounded

Pak offensive: 78 militants killed in fierce fighting

Mehsud's town surrounded

Seventy-eight Taliban militants and nine soldiers were killed in fierce fighting, which entered the third day on Monday. “Troops have encircled Kotkai, the home village of Hakimullah and his suicide attack trainer Qari Hussain, capturing key heights around it, and the area is expected to fall anytime,” army officials said.

The army pincers have also closed upon two other major towns, including Wana in the Taliban heartland. The security forces’ advance came as 18 terrorists and two soldiers were reported killed in the last 24 hours, raising the Taliban toll to 78.

“In the last 24-hours, 18 terrorists have been killed in various incidents and security forces’ losses are two dead and 12 injured,” chief military spokesman Athar Abbas told a news conference. The army was aiming to target and neutralise Taliban leadership in the ground and air offensive. “The high level targets are the leadership, and we will get them,” Abbas said as the Pakistani air force jets, helicopter gunships and heavy artillery pounded the Taliban positions on mountain tops.

Heavy mining
The army’s advance has been slowed down by the Taliban, heavily mining the roads and strewing the entire area with roadside bombs, which they have successfully used against the US and the Nato forces in Afghanistan.

The Pakistani military operations, which are meeting stiff resistance, also came up when a visiting top US general David Petraeus on Monday met Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to discuss the operation in South Waziristan and bilateral defence cooperation.

Having code-named the campaign as ‘Rah-e-Nijat’ or ‘Path to Salvation,’ Abbas said the Pakistan military was advancing on two axes from the southeast and southwest on Taliban’s main defences in the region.

“We are also blocking (routes) in the north so that they do not escape towards either North Waziristan or the border area (with Afghanistan),” Abbas said as he acknowledged the presence of al-Qaeda militants in the area but said they were acting as financers and trainers. Thirty-five soldiers, including officers, were injured, the spokesman said and disclosed that the security forces had moved about 12 to 15 km into the Taliban-held areas from two directions.

“After heavy fighting, a number of terrorists were killed and their positions captured,” Abbas said.  The Taliban abandoned a 12.7mm anti-aircraft gun post without fighting while two ammunition dumps and as many anti-aircraft gun positions at Spin Ghara were destroyed.

The Taliban too claimed to have inflicted casualties among the troops. None of the figures for casualties can be independently confirmed as the authorities have cut off all access to South Waziristan.