Thursday, March 18, 2004

New assault

Pakistan has "launched a new assault...against al-Qaida and Taliban suspects in a tribal region near Afghanistan." Pakistan just recently stated that no new operations would take place.

Pakistani troops and paramilitary forces using artillery and helicopter gunships launched a new assault Thursday against al-Qaida and Taliban suspects in a tribal region near Afghanistan, two days after a fierce assault that left dozens dead.

The new push began in Azam Warsak, Shin Warsak and Kaloosha villages in South Waziristan, the tribal region that borders Afghanistan, said Brig. Mahmood Shah, the chief of security for the area. Army spokesman Gen. Shaukat Sultan said there have been casualties in the new offensive, but he had no details of how many or on which side.

The operation follows a clash between security forces and suspected Taliban and al-Qaida holdouts in a fortress-like compound in the village of Kaloosha, just miles from the border. Some 39 people - including 15 troops and 26 militants, died in the raid on Tuesday, the military said Thursday in a statement. Eighteen other suspects were captured.

The statement said most of those killed Tuesday were foreigners, but it gave no details of nationalities and acknowledged that only two of the bodies had been recovered. No senior al-Qaida figures are believed to have been among those killed or captured.

More information on the assault...

Pakistani forces launched a fresh offensive on Thursday against suspected Al Qaeda fighters and their Pakistani tribesmen allies hiding out in a remote western area near the Afghan border.

Earlier, army helicopters rattled overhead as authorities used loudspeakers to urge villagers out of the area where paramilitary troops and militants on Tuesday fought their bloodiest battle in Pakistan’s new drive against militants.

“We gave a warning to the local population to vacate the area and move to safe areas. We gave them three hours and at around 10 a.m. (0500 GMT) we started engaging the area,” Mehmood Shah, a senior civilian official in the the area, told private GEO television.

“Heavy arms are being used. These foreign elements are using heavy weapons and we are too,” he said.

Sixteen 16 soldiers and 24 rebels were killed in the fighting on Tuesday. The dead rebels included men believed to be foreigners loyal to Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda network, an official said.

Amry spokesman Major-General Shaukat Sultan confirmed the offensive had begun. He described it as a “major operation”, involving the army as well as paramilitary forces.


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