Pak Army Steps up Offensive in Mehsud’s Strongholds

With Taliban militants firing rockets and the Pakistani army launching fresh air strikes, the clashes in country’s northwest tribal belt have intensified between the two sides, said officials.

In air strikes in strongholds and hideouts of Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud, at least 15 people are reported to have been killed. Army is strengthening for a full scale operation in the lawless area.

Army is finishing off an eight-week campaign in the northwest Swat valley and has shifted focus to Mehsud and his network along the Afghan border.

According to army officials, four villages in South Waziristan where Mehsud’s militants are suspected to be hiding were targeted by fighter jets on Monday.

“Eleven militants were killed and four others wounded when fighter jets pounded the compound of a local tribesman Malik Ameer in Kaniguram village, which was being used by rebels,” a security official in the area said.

Intelligence and police officials said that fighter jets hit the home of a local Taliban commander killing four people, two of them women, and injuring eight others on the border between North and South Waziristan.

“Jet planes bombed the house of Jalal Afghani. According to my information militants were using this house,” tribal police official Amanullah Wazir said.

“Two militants were killed and eight injured. Two others killed in the bombing were women – maybe they were family members,” he said.

Pakistan’s semi-autonomous tribal regions are wracked with violence and are known as a hub for Taliban and Al-Qaeda rebels who fled across the border to escape the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001.

South Waziristan is Mehsud’s stronghold, and Washington – which has been a vocal supporter of Islamabad’s anti-Taliban push – alleges that Al-Qaeda fighters are in the region plotting attacks on Western targets.

Pakistani fighter jets stepped up air raids in Waziristan early this month, apparently in preparation for a full-scale military onslaught into the hostile peaks to track down and eliminate Mehsud and his fighters.

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