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Page last updated at 20:06 GMT, Sunday, 18 October 2009 21:06 UK

Street fighting in Taliban bases

Major General Athar Abbas: There is a fight, but not as expected

Taliban militants are engaged in street fighting with Pakistani soldiers as the army tries to break the militants' grip on South Waziristan.

Both sides claim to have suffered few casualties but residents in the remote area say dozens have died.

The army, on the second day of its offensive, is reported to be facing battle-hardened militants, supported by Uzbek fighters linked to al-Qaeda.

At least 20,000 people have fled the area over the last week.

Reports from the region are sketchy as it is difficult and dangerous for foreign or Pakistani journalists to operate inside South Waziristan.

Street fighting

The military, mobilising from three directions, is controlling entry and exit points in the area.

A Pakistani family who fled the fighting wait for clearance in Dera Ismail Khan
Hundreds of families are abandoning their homes to escape the fighting

But the BBC's Syed Shoaib Hasan, reporting from Dera Ismail Khan, says a Taliban spokesman has told him that his forces have "not conceded one inch" of territory.

A Pakistani army spokesman said the army was encountering less resistance than expected but admitted the troops were progressing slowly because of the remote area's rugged, mountainous terrain.

"We have to be very sure-footed," Gen Attar Abbas told the BBC. "There are a number of mines and IEDs [improvised explosive devices] in the area which require clearance."

He added that the militants had suffered a higher number of casualties than the army, who had lost five soldiers.

"Reportedly in this last over 30 hours, there have been over 60 of these terrorists killed and many have been injured," he said.

Local residents in Tiarza say that troops have forced their way into the town, and are using helicopter gunships to attack Taliban forces in the hills around.

Our correspondent says he has been told that soldiers and militants are clashing on the streets of the town.

Soldiers are also reported to have taken ground around Spinkai Raghzai.

Troops established a checkpoint en route to Kotkai, the home town of Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud, AFP reported.

But our correspondent says no clear picture has emerged about who has the upper hand at the moment.

Air attacks

There had been several co-ordinated Taliban attacks in the run-up to the offensive, killing more than 150 people in cities across Pakistan.

FORCES IN WAZIRISTAN
Pakistan army: Two divisions totalling 28,000 soldiers
Frontier Corp: Paramilitary forces from tribal areas likely to support army
Taliban militants: Estimated between 10,000 and 20,000
Uzbek fighters supporting Taliban: Estimates widely vary between 500-5,000

Security is tight in towns and cities throughout Pakistan in case the Taliban carry out revenge attacks.

Nearly all communications in the region were down after the Taliban destroyed a telecommunications tower at Tiarza, local officials said.

Aerial bombardments in the Makeen area, a stronghold of the Mehsud tribe and a key army target, were also reported by local officials and witnesses.

The ground operation comes after weeks of air and artillery strikes against militant targets in the region, which lies close to the Afghan border.

There is a huge army presence on the road between Tank and Dera Ismail Khan, says the BBC's Islamabad correspondent Shoaib Hasan, near South Waziristan.

The army has been massing troops near the militants' stronghold for months - ever since the governor of Pakistan's North West Frontier Province announced a ground offensive in South Waziristan on 15 June.

Pakistan's government has been under considerable pressure from the US to tackle militancy there.

North and South Waziristan form a lethal militant belt from where insurgents have launched attacks across north-west Pakistan as well as into parts of eastern Afghanistan.

South Waziristan is considered to be the first significant sanctuary for Islamic militants outside Afghanistan since 9/11.

Map


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