Pakistan Army Assaults Taliban Zone on Border
By Anwar Shakir and James Rupert - Jul 4, 2011 3:00 PM E
Troops moved into the mountains of Kurram Agency, a tribal district that Taliban factions have used as a base, according to Major General Athar Abbas. Photographer: Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty Images
Pakistan’s army extended an offensive against Taliban guerrillas in its borderlands with Afghanistan, its chief spokesman said.
Troops moved into the mountains of Kurram Agency, a tribal district that Taliban factions have used as a base, according to Major General Athar Abbas yesterday. While Abbas declined to give details, the newspaper Dawn and other Pakistani media cited residents and officials as saying thousands of troops were involved, some flown in by helicopter.
Taking control of central areas of Kurram may enable the army to block the last major escape route for militants based in North Waziristan, the country’s biggest remaining guerrilla stronghold where the U.S. has pressed Pakistan to conduct a ground offensive, said Ashraf Ali, director of the FATA Research Center in Islamabad, which monitors the conflict in Pakistan’sFederally Administered Tribal Areas.
“The government is not prepared to make a broad, overall offensive into North Waziristan,” as the U.S. is demanding, Ali said in a phone interview yesterday. “But going into Kurram may be part of a strategy to isolate the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan,” or TTP, and prepare for a more selective ground attack into Waziristan, he said.
A successful occupation of Kurram would prevent militants from fleeing to Afghanistan’s Tora Bora mountains, from whereOsama bin Laden escaped an attack by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in December 2001.
The TTP has been the most aggressive Taliban faction in attacking the Pakistani government. Afghan Taliban and other militant groups in the border zone have focused their warfare against U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
The Kurram offensive comes days after a prominent Pakistani Taliban commander, Fazal Saeed Haqqani, broke his forces away from the main TTP movement, saying he objected to its use of tactics that have killed thousands of civilians in addition to Pakistani security personnel.
As the army offensive began, more than 1,000 families fled central Kurram to escape the fighting, Khalid Ilyas Khan, a director of disaster management operations for FATA, said by phone.