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Pakistan presses offensive

A Pakistan army tank is moved through Bara on the Afghan border on Sunday. The military says it is fighting up to 12,000 militants and expects the battle to last two months.

Associated Press

A Pakistan army tank is moved through Bara on the Afghan border on Sunday. The military says it is fighting up to 12,000 militants and expects the battle to last two months.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The Pakistani military moved deeper into South Waziristan on Sunday, hitting Taliban targets with F-16 fighter jets, while troops supported by helicopter gunships climbed higher into the mountainous terrain, said military personnel and a spokesman for the militants.

Sounding confident on the second day of the campaign against Taliban and al-Qaida forces, a senior military official said "the level of resistance from the militants is not very high." Even so, said the official, who declined to be identified, the area is heavily mined and Pakistani forces had encountered many homemade bombs.

The Taliban said they want to encourage the military to move deeper into the militant enclave in the center of South Waziristan, then tie the soldiers down with hit-and-run tactics in a protracted campaign in the inhospitable terrain over the winter.

Gen. David H. Petraeus, who oversees the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as head of the U.S. Central Command, arrived in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, on Sunday to consult with civilian and military leaders.

The fight in South Waziristan is a key test for Pakistan's military, which is tasked with shattering a rising Islamist insurgency that has killed nearly 200 people in bombings and gunfights in the past two weeks. American officials, who have urged Pakistan to get tougher on militants operating on its soil, say the region is also a hub for militants who plan attacks on U.S.-led forces across the border in Afghanistan.

The Pakistani army began the long-awaited operation into the Taliban heartland inside South Waziristan early Saturday. The army said in a statement Sunday that 60 militants had been killed, and five Pakistani soldiers had died in the fighting so far.

The chief Taliban spokesman, Azam Tariq, said in a telephone call to reporters in Peshawar that the "army has launched attacks from all sides." He said the militants had killed 60 soldiers.

The government announced its intention to attack South Waziristan in June, giving the Taliban plenty of time to lay mines and prepare other defenses and communications, he said.

There was no way to independently verify the army or Taliban statements. The military, which has deployed about 30,000 troops to the region, has blocked entry points into the war zone. But residents who left the area this weekend said they had heard explosions and shootouts and had seen masked, heavily armed militants swarming outside towns.

Pakistani soldiers surged into the region Saturday from three sides, and military officials said they were targeting the vast holdings of the Mehsud tribe, whose members make up much of the leadership of the Pakistani Taliban. Among the towns that the Pakistani military has captured is Kotkai, the home town of Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud, according to Shahab Ali Shah, South Waziristan's top civilian administrator.

The military says its forces are fighting as many as 12,000 militants in a battle it expects to last two months.

Information from the Washington Post was used in this report.

Pakistan presses offensive 10/18/09 [Last modified: Sunday, October 18, 2009 11:08pm]

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