/ 4 November 2009

Deadly battles as Pakistan troops advance on Taliban

Pakistani troops were on Wednesday locked in deadly street battles with Taliban fighters, pushing a ground offensive deeper into militant-held territory, the military said.

A senior military official said the army had ”taken” the strategic town of Sararogha in the third week of fighting, while 30 Islamist insurgents were reported killed in the last 24 hours.

Pakistan has vowed to quash Tehreek-e-Taliban in South Waziristan, part of the border area with Afghanistan that Washington calls the most dangerous place in the world because of the abundance of al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters.

Sararogha shot to local infamy as the operational centre of former Tehreek-e-Taliban warlord Baitullah Mehsud, who was killed in a US drone attack in August. Sixteen militants were killed in fighting there, the army said.

The military provides the only regular information coming from the frontlines. None of the details can be verified because communication lines are down and journalists and aid workers barred from the area.

Pakistan launched its fierce air and ground offensive into the north-west region on October 17, with about 30 000 troops backed by fighter jets and helicopter gunships laying siege to Tehreek-e-Taliban bolt-holes.

”Today, security forces entered into the important stronghold of terrorists, the town of Ladha. Intense fighting is taking place in [the] streets,” the military said in its daily update.

It said ”security forces have cleared a major part” of Sararogha, but a senior official in north-west Pakistan said the town had been captured.

So far, the military has claimed to have killed more than 390 militants since the operation began, with 37 troops losing their lives.

The long-anticipated assault into South Waziristan came after a spring offensive in and around the north-western Swat valley, which the government declared a success in July. However, sporadic outbreaks of violence continue. — AFP