ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The Pakistani military is setting its sights on the Taliban's remote sanctuary after nearly two weeks of big bombings across the country, as hundreds flee the Afghan border region each day before what promises to be the army's riskiest offensive yet.
With the first winter snows less than two months away, the army has little time to mount a major ground attack. The United States is racing to send night vision goggles and other equipment. The Pakistani military insists it is sealing off supply routes, forcing the militants to rely on goat paths.
The army has tried three times since 2001 to dislodge Taliban fighters from their stronghold in South Waziristan, part of the lawless tribal area along the border. The attempts ended in negotiated truces that left the Taliban in control.
This time, military spokesman Gen. Athar Abbas says, there will be no negotiations for fear any deals would be seen as a failure and jeopardize gains won last spring when Pakistani soldiers wrested control of the Swat Valley, elsewhere in the northwest.
The United States says the results of the South Waziristan campaign will also help determine the success of the faltering American war effort in Afghanistan. Militants use the Waziristan region as a base from which to launch attacks across the border.
"This region is at the heart of the struggle against al-Qaida, the Taliban, and other global jihadi movements. It is a lawless sanctuary for extremists and would-be militants of every shape, size, and color," said Evan Kohlmann, whose U.S.-based NEFA Foundation follows terrorist groups.
"Most of the jihad training camps frequented by foreign nationals and featured in al-Qaida and Taliban terror propaganda videos are located in either North or South Waziristan," Kohlmann said.
While Abbas was evasive about the timing of the offensive, he said it will begin with a ground assault against insurgent positions before winter snows block mountain roads.