Army retakes fort in South Waziristan
The Pakistani military said it has retaken control of the Ladha Fort in South Waziristan after heavy fighting in the region.
The Ladha Fort, which has been under Taliban control since August 2008, was retaken today, the military said. Back in July 2008, the Frontier Corps, a paramilitary force responsible for security in Pakistan's tribal areas, abandoned the Ladha Fort and all of the outposts in the Saam region in South Waziristan. The Frontier Corps claimed the Ladha Fort was vacated at the wishes of local tribal leaders and would be converted into a hospital, but local reports indicated the Taliban had strangled the supply lines in the region. The Frontier Corps also abandoned other forts in the area, including one at Sararogha.
Ladha is one of five major Taliban towns in South Waziristan. The military has already taken control of Kotkai and Kanigoram, is currently clearing Sararogha, and has surrounded Makeen.
Twenty-eight Taliban fighters and five Pakistani soldiers were killed during fighting over the past day. In all, the military has claimed that more than 420 Taliban fighters and only 40 soldiers have been killed since the Army launched an operation against the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan on Oct. 17.
The Taliban have denied taking such heavy casualties, and its spokesman, Tariq Azam, said only 11 of their fighters have been killed while their forces have inflicted scores of casualties on the Pakistani military. The claims from either side cannot be confirmed as the military has barred all reporters from the combat zone, save for closely scripted tours.
The Taliban have claimed that their forces have been withdrawn, save for a small rearguard to bleed Pakistani forces during the advance. Tariq Azam said Taliban forces are luring the Army into a trap and will wage a bitter guerrilla campaign against troops and security forces left behind. According to a report at the BBC, the Taliban leadership cadre, including Hakeemullah Mehsud, have fled to a region on the border with North Waziristan to wait out the military offensive. No senior Taliban leaders have been reported killed or captured during the fighting.
The Pakistani military claims it has achieved great success in the operation by taking the high ground in the Mehsud tribal lands, then cutting off the Taliban before advancing into the towns and villages. The military hopes to complete the operation before the winter snows set in and travel is restricted.