Pro-Taliban Rebel Holdouts Give Pakistanis a Fierce Fight
Tuesday, March 7, 2006
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, March 6 -- Pakistani security forces battled pro-Taliban rebels holding out in a town near the Afghan border on Monday, killing 19 of them as the toll from three days of clashes rose to more than 120, the military said.
The rebels launched attacks on government positions in Miran Shah on Saturday as President Bush met Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, in the capital. The fighting has raged since.
"Helicopter gunships have been pounding militant positions around Miran Shah," said a resident of the town that serves as the administrative capital of North Waziristan, a tribal region. "The situation is very tense."
The semiautonomous ethnic Pashtun lands along the Afghan border are Pakistan's front line in the war on terrorism.
After U.S. and Afghan opposition forces ousted the Taliban in late 2001, many al-Qaeda militants fled to the area, which was awash in weapons. Taliban supporters among the Pashtun clans offered al-Qaeda a refuge.
Hundreds of people have been killed since late 2004 as Pakistani forces have been trying to clear foreign militants from the border area and subdue their Pakistani allies.
Government forces faced stiff resistance as they tried to remove the last of the rebels from Miran Shah on Monday, said a military spokesman, Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan.
Militants launched attacks and seized government buildings Saturday in Miran Shah in revenge for a government attack Wednesday that killed 45 fighters.
The toll from the first day of fighting rose from 46 to more than 100 militants as more detailed reports arrived, Sultan said. Two militants were killed Sunday.
Five troops were killed and two wounded over the three days, he said.
Thousands had left Miran Shah since last week's violence and the exodus was continuing Monday, said the resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
Violence targeting the U.S.-backed Afghan government and foreign troops has strained relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan. On Sunday, Musharraf derided Afghan accusations that the Taliban leader, Mohammad Omar, was in Pakistan.
A U.S. military spokesman in Afghanistan welcomed the Pakistani action in Waziristan.
"We see this as a very positive move," Col. Jim Yonts said. "This issue in Waziristan is an example that they are fighting the war on terrorism."