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Pakistani troops destroy Taliban stronghold
By Farhan Bokhari in Islamabad
Published: September 29 2008 15:41 | Last updated: September 29 2008 15:41
Pakistani troops have destroyed a Taliban stronghold along the Afghan border and unearthed a network of underground bunkers used for planning and training of hardcore militants, a senior Pakistani security official claimed on Monday.
Officials said the militant stronghold destroyed in Bajaur province in an operation completed over the weekend was one of three or four of its kind on the Pakistani side of the Afghan border.
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The stronghold made up of an elaborate network of tunnels was used for regular meetings of key commanders and keeping stockpiles of weapons and ammunition, they said.
Bajaur, the smallest of the seven “agencies” that make up Pakistan’s semi-autonomous tribal areas, has been the site of a major military offensive against militants since August.
Pakistan’s role in supporting the US and NATO forces in Afghanistan to curb al-Qaeda and Taliban militants has faced questions recently and senior US and NATO officials have urged Pakistan to do more to curb the flow of militants into Afghanistan. A storm of public criticism targeting the US and NATO also erupted in Pakistan this month after a series of US air-strikes and raids on suspected militant sites near the Afghan border.
At a background briefing for reporters on Monday, Pakistan sought to portray the destruction of the Bajaur stronghold as a major victory in its efforts to stem the flow of militants across the border. The latest success, a senior security official said, would mean a 65-70 per cent reduction in the hundreds of militants who crossed the border into Afghanistan.
One western defence official called the destruction of the Bajaur stronghold significant but said it was too early to judge if that was true. “The Pak-Afghan border is very porous. It is impossible to see what exact impact this single victory would eventually have,” he said.
Another western official, however, said the Bajaur operation ”deals a major blow to the militants [and] also shows that the military is capable of striking at the heart of the militant structure.”
Analysts said Pakistan appeared more intent on battling militants since General Ashfaq Kiyani, the army chief, in a rare public statement this month reiterated Pakistan’s right to take action against militants on the country’s soil.
“Pakistanis are increasingly seeing this war as their own rather than an American war. General Kiyani’s statement has been an important catalyst to articulate the view that Pakistan must itself solve this problem,” said Brigadier (retired) Shaukat Qadir, a commentator on military and security affairs.
The new offensive in Bajaur has come at a major cost to civilians. The United Nations said on Monday that some 20,000 people from Bajaur have fled to Afghanistan in recent months due to the intense fighting between government forces and militants.
According to the UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, more than 3,900 families have fled into Afghanistan’s Kunar province with 600 of those families fleeing in the last two weeks alone.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008
http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/3a2e8a7a-8e2f ... ck_check=1
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