Pakistan to target Taliban's 'epicentre': NYT

For three months, the military has been drawing up plans, holding in-depth deliberations and studying past operations in the area, where previous campaigns ended in failure and resulted in some of the military's highest level of casualties, the influential US daily said citing senior military and security officials.

Even so, unnamed military officials cited by the Times said they expected stiff resistance once again in an area that one senior military official called the "epicentre" of the Taliban in Pakistan. It has also become a key base for Al Qaeda.

"This is where we will be fighting the toughest of all battles," the official was quoted as saying. "If we don't take the battle to them, they will bring the battle to us," he added noting the military now seemed ready to try to re-enter the area, having decided it could wait no longer.

The past two operations in South Waziristan ended up with the military bogged down and suing for peace, resulting in a series of accords that ultimately strengthened the hand of the militants.

The Pakistani Army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, described Waziristan as an intelligence black hole. "We have to move in," he said recently.

But all agree that the battle ahead is formidable, the Times said.  Questions remain whether the army will be able to hold territory and sustain operations in a tough and treacherous terrain, where snows arrive in late November.

The Mehsud militants not only have the advantage of familiarity with the area, but their numbers - estimated at 6,000 to 7,000 - have been thickened by foreign elements, in particular Uzbeks, who have a reputation as ferocious fighters.

Then there is the Haqqani network, which uses the area as a base for its operations in Afghanistan, and there is Al Qaeda, which depends heavily on the Mehsud fighting force. "They will defend their power base and fight till the very last," one officer cited by the Times said.

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