Fighting intensifies in Pakistan's Bannu-Waziristan region
The Pakistani military said more than 130 Taliban fighters were killed during a three-day-old offensive in Bannu, while a Taliban assault on two forts in the neighboring tribal agency of South Waziristan has been repelled. In Peshawar, three policemen were killed and 13 more were wounded during a suicide attack in the city's outskirts.
The military said 30 Taliban fighters were killed in the opening day of the Bannu offensive, 80 were killed during heavy fighting yesterday, and another 30 were killed today. The army is using helicopters and strike aircraft as well as artillery to pound Taliban positions in the Jani Khel and Baka Khel tribal areas. Between 600 and 800 Taliban fighters from North and South Waziristan are reported to have moved into the region to reinforce the local Taliban fighters.
Jani Khel was identified as the headquarters for al Qaeda's Shura Majlis, or executive council, back in 2007. Ayman al Zawahiri, al Qaeda's second in command, has operated in the Jani Khel region. The US has struck al Qaeda safe houses in Jani Khel twice since last year. These strikes are the only two Predator attacks that have occurred outside of Pakistan tribal areas.
The town of Jani Khel is a known haven for al Qaeda leaders and fighters. Senior al Qaeda operative Abdullah Azzam al Saudi was killed in a Predator strike in Jani Khel on Nov. 19, 2008. Azzam served as a liaison between al Qaeda and the Taliban operating in Pakistan's northwest. He also facilitated al Qaeda's external operations network and served as a recruiter and trainer.
The military said Jani Khel is used by the Taliban to stage attacks in the neighboring districts of Dera Ismail Khan, Bannu, Kohat, and Peshawar. Multiple suicide and conventional attacks have been carried out by the Taliban and allied jihadi groups since 2006.
Pakistani military officials are saying that an offensive against the Taliban and al Qaeda in North and South Waziristan is only weeks away. The Jani Khel and Baka Khel region sits astride the main route, the Miramshah-Bannu Road, that would be used for a Pakistani military offensive.
In South Waziristan, a Taliban force of about 400 men attacked military outposts manned by the Frontier Corps in Jandola, Chakmalai, and Siplatoi. The military said the assault was repelled and 22 Taliban fighters and three troops were killed during the fighting. The Taliban have stepped up attacks against the military in South Waziristan since the military launched an operation to retake the Swat Valley back from the Taliban. The military claims that more than 1,300 Taliban fighters and more than 90 soldiers have been killed during the operation, which has been under way for nearly six weeks.
The Taliban have also ramped up attacks in Pakistan's major cities. Peshawar was hit yet again today. Three Pakistanis were killed and 13 policemen were wounded in an attack on a police checkpoint on the Ring Road outside the city. A Taliban fighter tossed a hand grenade at a police checkpoint, and as rescue workers gathered, a suicide bomber waded into the crowd and detonated his vest.
Just two days ago the Taliban carried out a major suicide attack against the Pearl Continental Hotel in Peshawar. The attack killed 11 people and destroyed part of the building.
Also, in the city of Darra Adam Khel in the Arakzai tribal agency, the Taliban attacked the provincial minister for jails. The minister was wounded, and two guards and a Taliban fighter were killed during the clash. The minister reportedly took several bullets to the chest.