In assault on Taliban, Pakistan's army strikes deal with two tribal chiefs

DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan — Pakistan's army, in the midst of a major new offensive against Taliban militants, has struck deals to keep two powerful, anti-U.S. tribal chiefs from joining the battle against the government, officials said Monday.

The deals increase the chances of an army victory against the Pakistani Taliban, but indicate that the assault into the militant strongholds in South Waziristan may have less effect than the United States wants on a spreading insurgency across the border in Afghanistan.

Under the terms agreed to about three weeks ago, Taliban renegades Maulvi Nazir and Hafiz Gul Bahadur will stay out of the current fight in parts of South Waziristan controlled by the Pakistani Taliban. They will also allow the army to move through their own lands unimpeded, giving the military additional fronts from which to attack the Taliban.

In exchange, the army will ease patrols and bombings in the lands controlled by Nazir and Bahadur, two Pakistani intelligence officials told the Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

An army spokesman described the deal as an "understanding" with the men that they would stay neutral. The agreements underscore Pakistan's past practice of targeting only militant groups that attack the government or its forces inside Pakistan.

Western officials say South Waziristan is also a major sanctuary and training ground for al-Qaida operatives. The mountainous region has been under militant control for years and is considered a likely hiding place for Osama bin Laden.

The United States has responded cautiously to the initial Pakistani strategy, welcoming the offensive but saying little about the choice of targets. "We have a shared goal here, and the shared goal is fighting violent extremism," State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said Monday.

The army's offensive in South Waziristan is pitting some 30,000 troops against 11,500 militants belonging to the Pakistani Taliban. The Taliban have claimed responsibility for a surge in strikes over the past two weeks that has killed more than 170 people.

In assault on Taliban, Pakistan's army strikes deal with two tribal chiefs 10/20/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 20, 2009 12:02am]

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