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Old 06-19-2009, 02:42 PM
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Default Pakistani Troops advance into Taliban-controlled areas

It seems less readers if I use older posts to update in. So...

Ground forces move in for Pakistan offensive

By ROHAN SULLIVAN and ASIF SHAHZAD, Associated Press Writers Rohan Sullivan And Asif Shahzad, Associated Press Writers 2 hrs 1 min ago

ISLAMABAD Pakistani ground troops moved into Taliban-controlled areas Friday and engaged in the first gunbattle of a new offensive in the volatile northwest, as an aerial and artillery bombardment pounded other targets.

Officials said Friday's action did not represent the start of a full-scale operation in the tribal belt along the border with Afghanistan, but that most troops were now in place for when the orders came.

The coming operation in South Waziristan, along with one winding down in the Swat Valley further north, could be a turning point in Pakistan's years long and sometimes halfhearted fight against militancy.

It could also help the war effort in Afghanistan, because the tribal belt is believed to house key bases of al-Qaida and Taliban militants accused of launching attacks on Western and government forces in Afghanistan.

Washington strongly supports the operations, which are seen as a test of nuclear-armed Pakistan's resolve against an insurgency that has expanded in the past two years.

The Swat offensive has been generally welcomed in Pakistan, but public opinion could quickly turn if the government fails to effectively help more than 2 million people displaced from their homes by the fighting, or if civilian casualties mount.

South Waziristan government official Nematullah Khan said Friday ground troops had started taking up positions around strongholds of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, who is blamed for a series of suicide attacks in Pakistan that have killed more than 100 people since late May.

"Troops have entered Mehsud's areas" for the first time, Khan told The Associated Press.

Nearby, fighter bombers and artillery pounded suspected militant targets, flattening at least three suspected training facilities and killing or wounding several insurgents, two senior intelligence officials said.

The Taliban opened fire on troops elsewhere in the mountainous area, starting a gunbattle that lasted hours, said one of the intelligence officials, without giving any further details. It was the first ground fighting since the military announced this week that the operation was on, but in its early stages.

The troop deployment in many areas of South Waziristan has been completed, and soldiers were moving toward strategic areas where large numbers of Taliban fighters were believed to be entrenched, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to give information to the media.

One of the officials said the military was blocking all roads that the militants could use to flee.

Khan said a full-scale operation was still not under way.

"These are sort of advance" attacks, he said. "These are attempts to soften targets before hitting them hard. But you can say something has begun."
..................................MUCH MORE HERE....................................
Ground forces move in for Pakistan offensive - Yahoo! News
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