Pakistan steps up border offensive

DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan — Troops fought militants on three fronts and fighter jets bombed insurgent positions near the Afghan border today as Pakistan pressed ahead with an assault on the country’s main Taliban and al-Qaida stronghold.

The army and the Pakistani Taliban have each claimed early victories in South Waziristan, a lawless, semiautonomous region that Islamist extremists use as a base to plot attacks on the Pakistani state, Western troops in Afghanistan and targets in the West.

As the offensive entered its third day, Pakistani intelligence officials revealed that the army had reached prior agreements with two militant commanders — whose supporters are believed to be fighting U.S. forces in Afghanistan — to stay neutral during the assault.

That could trigger concern in Washington, which has been pushing Islamabad to launch the offensive, seen as the most crucial yet against militants who are in control of a large swath of Pakistan’s northwestern frontier region. Militants have carried out a string of bloody attacks in recent weeks, including a 22-hour siege of army headquarters.

Today, U.S. Central Command chief David Petraeus met Pakistan’s prime minister and army chief in the capital. U.S. Sen. John Kerry also met the two Pakistanis to try and ease tensions over an American aid bill that has caused a rift between Pakistan’s army and civilian government.

Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Gen. Athar Abbas said 78 militants and nine soldiers have been killed since the offensive began Saturday. It is nearly impossible to independently verify what is going on in South Waziristan because the army is blocking access to it and surrounding towns.

Intelligence officials said the army before the offensive had reached verbal agreements with two militant commanders, Maulvi Nazir and Hafiz Gul Bahadur, aimed at ensuring they stay neutral during the offensive. In return, the army will not attack the men and their fighters, who concentrate on battling U.S. troops in Afghanistan, the officials said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information.

Abbas told The Associated Press “there was an understanding with them that they will not interfere in this war.”

“There is always a strategy to isolate your main target,” he told reporters, adding you “sometimes have to talk to the devil in this regard.”

Asked whether the agreement was holding, he said, “Obviously, they are not coming to rescue or to help.”

The offensive is focused on eliminating Pakistani Taliban militants linked to the Mehsud tribe, who control about half of South Waziristan and are blamed for 80 percent of the suicide attacks that have battered Pakistan over the last three years.

The army wants to isolate the Mehsud tribe from others in the region, something many analysts say will be key to its success or failure as the army does not have the strength to take on all the groups in the region simultaneously. Pakistan troops have been beaten back from the mountainous region in South Waziristan three times since 2004.

The United States has made it clear it would like Pakistan to target all militant groups in the northwest, regardless of where their interests lie. U.S. Embassy officials declined comment when asked about the deals apparently struck with the two commanders.

Abbas said forces were moving deeper into militant-controlled territory from three directions today, taking rocket fire and fighting insurgents. Jets were making bombing runs in the Ladha and Makeen areas, he said.

Some 30,000 troops are up against an estimated 10,000 Pakistani militants and about 1,500 foreign fighters.

As many as 150,000 civilians have left the region in recent months after the army made clear it was planning an assault, but some 350,000 people may be left. Authorities say up to 200,000 people may flee in the coming weeks.

“The situation in Waziristan is getting worse and worse every day,” said Haji Sherzad Mehsud as he lined up for aid in Dera Ismail Khan, a town near South Waziristan.

Accounts from residents and those fleeing Sunday suggested militant resistance was far tougher than in the Swat Valley, another northwest region where insurgents were overpowered earlier this year. Officials have said they envisage the operation will last two months, when winter weather will make fighting difficult.

The U.S. has rushed to send equipment, such as night-vision goggles, to aid the offensive.

Petraeus, who oversees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, is a regular visitor to Islamabad.

Kerry is the co-sponsor of a bill signed by President Barack Obama last week that gives $1.5 billion annually over five years for economic and social programs. Pakistan’s government supports the bill, but the army and opposition politicians have complained that some of the aid comes with strings attached that amount to American meddling in security affairs.

In a statement, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani said the United States must address the concerns through “tangible initiatives” but said he hoped the conditions attached to the package would not stop Washington handing over the aid.

The legislation requires Pakistan to crack down on terrorism and ensure civilian control over the army, among other things.

Also today, police said they had arrested a man identified as the head of the Pakistani Taliban in the southern city of Karachi along with three other alleged militants in connection with a foiled attempt to attack an oil terminal last month.

Police officer Waseem Ahmed identified the alleged Karachi Taliban head as Akhtar Zaman. He and the others were arrested in a raid on a building in the western part of the city. Wearing women’s burqas, three suspected militants killed a security guard as they tried to enter the oil terminal last month, but fled as police arrived.

Talk to us

More in Local News

The Safeway store at 4128 Rucker Ave., on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023, in Everett, Washington. (Mike Henneke / The Herald)
Police: Everett Safeway ex-worker accused of trying to ram customers

The man, 40, was showing symptoms of psychosis, police wrote. Officers found him circling another parking lot off Mukilteo Boulevard.

Lynnwood Mayor Christine Frizzell speaks during a ribbon cutting ceremony to celebrate the completion of the 196th ST SW Improvement Project near the 196th and 44th Ave West intersection in Lynnwood, Washington on Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Jarred by anti-Semitic rants, Lynnwood council approves tax increase

Three people spewed hate speech via Zoom at a council meeting this week. Then, the council moved on to regular business.

The county canvassing board certifies election results at the Snohomish County Auditor’s Office in Everett, Washington on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023.  (Annie Barker / The Herald)
General election results stamped official by canvassing board

In Snohomish County, one hand recount will take place. Officials said ballot challenges were down this year.

The Days Inn on Everett Mall Way, which Snohomish County is set to purchase and convert into emergency housing, is seen Monday, Aug. 8, 2022, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Over $130M for affordable housing set to be approved by County Council

The five-year investment plan of the 0.1% sales tax aims to construct 550 new affordable units.

Two snowboarders head up the mountain in a lift chair on the opening day of ski season at Stevens Pass Ski Area on Friday, Dec. 2, 2022, near Skykomish, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Ski season delayed at Stevens Pass due to minimal snow

Resort originally planned to open Dec. 1. But staff are hopeful this week’s snow will allow guests to hit the slopes soon.

Siblings Qingyun, left, and Ruoyun Li, 12 and 13, respectively, are together on campus at Everett Community College on Thursday, Oct. 19, 2023, in Everett, Washington. The two are taking a full course load at the community college this semester. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Siblings, age 12 and 13, are youngest students at EvCC campus

Qingyun Li was 11 when he scored a perfect 36 on the ACT test. His sister, Ruoyun, was one point away.

Edmond’s newly elected mayor Mike Rosen on Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023 in Edmonds, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Mayor-elect Rosen wants to ‘make Edmonds politics boring again’

Mike Rosen handily defeated incumbent Mayor Mike Nelson. He talked with The Herald about how he wants to gather the “full input” of residents.

Outside of Angel of the Winds Arena on Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Police arrest Angel of the Winds arena worker accused of stabbing boss

The man allegedly walked up to his employer and demanded a raise, before stabbing him in the stomach, witnesses said.

Providence Hospital in Everett at sunset on December 11, 2017. (Kevin Clark / The Daily Herald)
After strike, Everett nurses, Providence agree on tentative contract

Following a five-day strike, union nurses and the hospital met to negotiate for the first time in late November.

The terminal and air traffic control tower at Paine Field are seen on Thursday, Oct. 13, 2022, in unincorporated Snohomish County, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Everett’s second-largest aerospace employer, ATS, names new CEO

New CEO Robert Cords will lead Paine Field-based Aviation Technical Services, which employs 800 people in Everett.

A sign showing the river levels of previous floods is visible along the Snohomish River on Monday, Dec. 4, 2023 in Snohomish, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Forecast holds: Flooding to hit Tuesday in Gold Bar, Monroe, Snohomish

The Snohomish River was expected to crest “just below” major flood stage late Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service.

Chestnut mushrooms grow in a fruiting tent on Friday, Dec. 1, 2023, at Black Forest Mushrooms in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Fungi town: Downtown Everett home to new indoor gourmet mushroom farm

Black Forest Mushrooms will grow up to 20,000 pounds of tasty mushrooms each month. Its storefront opens Saturday at 2110 Hewitt Ave.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.