SARAROGHA, Pakistan — A school that the army says churned out suicide bombers now lies in ruins. Soldiers patrol towns once ruled by militants who gave refuge to al-Qaida. Left behind are bundles of terror manuals, extremist propaganda and boxes of ammunition and explosives.
Pakistan's latest offensive close to the Afghan border has uprooted Taliban militants from long-held sanctuaries, an action the Obama administration says is crucial to success in Afghanistan amid surging violence against U.S. troops.
But questions remain over whether the insurgents have slipped away into the mountains of South Waziristan or beyond to fight another day, as they have done before. Also unclear is whether the army will push its assault into other areas in the northwest, where the United States says commanders responsible for much of the Afghan insurgency are based.
The army ferried reporters by helicopter to parts of South Waziristan on Tuesday, the only way media can visit the remote and sparsely populated region. Humanitarian workers are also banned, meaning there have been few, if any, independent accounts from the battlefield.
Reporters were shown the towns of Ladha and Sararogha, which were both militant hubs before the offensive started in mid-October. Commanders said Pakistani troops have retaken most population centers, roads and strategic high ground in the region but that insurgents remain in parts of the countryside.
"The terrorists declared this region would be the graveyard of the Pakistani army, but we proved them otherwise," said Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas.
As well as being the stronghold of the Taliban, South Waziristan has long been a refuge for al-Qaida leaders, who fled here after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. It's considered a possible hiding place for Osama bin Laden.