Pakistan is slowly advancing on Taliban

By Zarar Khan and Ishtiaq Mahsud
Associated Press / October 23, 2009

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DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan - Residents fleeing a 6-day-old Pakistani Army offensive in a Taliban stronghold along the Afghan border reported yesterday that the insurgents are digging in for a fight and travel the roads freely.

Tired and dusty refugees arriving in this northwestern town yesterday from different parts of South Waziristan reported intense army bombing by jets and helicopters but said they had seen no ground troops.

The accounts by a dozen refugees are a sign of just how much fighting remains before the military can even hope to clear the area, which in recent years has become a major global hub for Al Qaeda and other extremist groups that carry out attacks against US troops in Afghanistan.

The militants were believed to control about 1,275 square miles before the offensive began. That portion covers about half of South Waziristan, which itself is slightly larger than Delaware.

The military say its troops are progressing steadily and retaking land on three fronts. But officers have made it clear that the campaign will be long and bloody and acknowledged resistance is tough.

As the army presses into their heartland, the militants are trying to bring the war to the rest of Pakistan.

Over the past 20 days, they have killed more than 170 people in a series of suicide bombings and raids on Western, civilian, and security force targets across the country.

In the latest attack, suspected insurgents on a motorbike shot and killed a senior army officer and a soldier yesterday in a residential part of the capital, Islamabad.

The slain officer, Ahmed Moinuddin, was on leave from his job as deputy commander of the UN peacekeeping mission in Sudan.

The attack was carried out despite ramped-up security nationwide.