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Pakistan begins ground offensive against militants

June 30, 2014
Associated Press

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistan launched a ground offensive against militant strongholds near the Afghan border on Monday after evacuating nearly half a million people from the tribal region, the army said.

The ground offensive is the second phase of a long-awaited operation against militants in the North Waziristan tribal area, a lawless, mountainous stretch of land in northwest Pakistan. The military announced the operation on June 15 but has mostly limited its tactics to airstrikes while giving time to hundreds of thousands of people to pack up their belongings and leave to safer areas.

The U.S. has long pushed for such an operation to go after militants that use the area as a safe haven from which to attack targets in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The army began a house-to-house search in Miran Shah, the main town in North Waziristan, the army statement said. It said nearly 15 militants were killed in the initial ground advance. The town is also the headquarters for a number of different militant groups such as the Pakistani Taliban.

The operation began days after militants attacked the main airport in the southern port city of Karachi, killing 26 people. The 10 assailants were also killed in the roughly five-hour siege that shocked Pakistanis by showing how vulnerable the country's institutions have become.

Pakistani forces killed 376 militants during the first 15 days of the offensive, the statement said, adding that 17 troops also died. North Waziristan was already a difficult area for journalists to access but the operation has made it even more difficult to independently verify reports of casualties.

The military said infantry troops and commandos are leading the ground advance. Three soldiers were wounded in an exchange of fire, the statement said.

The Pakistani army has already conducted several military operations in the tribal badlands along Afghan border, including offensives in 2009 in the scenic Swat valley and in South Waziristan, the onetime headquarters of the Pakistani Taliban.

The Pakistani Taliban is a loose network of several local militant groups who want to overthrow the country's government in a bid to install their own harsh brand of Islamic law. In their decade-old deadly campaign of bombings, shootings and other attacks, they have killed thousands of Pakistanis.

The government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif ever since he took office last summer had been trying to negotiate a peace deal with the militants. The operation has effectively ended prospects of any such move in near future.

 
 

 

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