Pakistani military begins ground phase of South Waziristan offensive

Heavy fighting has broken out in South Waziristan as the Pakistani Army and paramilitary Frontier Corps have begun moving ground forces forward into tribal areas run by Taliban chieftain Baitullah Mehsud.

More than 30 Taliban fighters have been reported killed in separate engagements in South Waziristan. Pakistani forces, backed by Air Force F-16 fighter-bombers, attack helicopters, and artillery, have begun to engage Baitullah’s forces in earnest.

The clashes “should be read as the formal launch of an offensive against Baitullah,” Pakistani intelligence officials told AFP.

Heavy fighting broke out when Pakistani forces advanced into the towns of Barwand and Madijan, which are controlled by Baitullah’s followers. The military is reported to have moved artillery units forward into these two towns.

Fighting broke out along the Wana-Jandola road after Taliban forces attempted to block Pakistani troops near the town of Sarwaki. The Wana-Jandola road is the main route into South Waziristan. The Taliban have controlled the road for the past three years. The military plans to secure the road before launching “a full-fledged assault on Baitullah Mehsud and his supporters,” Dawn reported.

Helicopter gunships also pounded Taliban positions in the Kund Serai, Wara, and Serwekai. The military attacked a Taliban training camp, two madrassas, and three Taliban safe houses, the military said.

The military has been moving forces into regions just outside of Baitullah’s tribal areas the past week. Large numbers of soldiers accompanied by tanks and armored vehicles have been seen passing through the neighboring district of Tank. Military bases in Jandola and Manzai are said to be the staging areas for the offensives. Upwards of 20,000 Pakistani troops are reported to have been moved into the region to execute the offensive.

The military began conducting air and artillery strikes in South Waziristan in earnest this week in preparation for the assault. A June 16 airstrike in Baitullah’s home town of Makeen is reported to have wounded Tahir Yuldashev, the leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Yuldashev is said to lead more than 4,000 Uzbek and Central Asian fighters along the Afghan-Pakistani border. He is closely allied with Baitullah, as well as with South Waziristan Taliban commander Mullah Nazir and Osama bin Laden.

The US also weighed in against Baitullah with a June 14 Predator strike in Makeen. Five Taliban and al Qaeda fighters are said to have been killed in the attack.

The Pakistani government has signaled the offensive in South Waziristan will focus exclusively on Baitullah and his followers. Mullah Nazir, who also shelters al Qaeda and hosts their training camps, and North Waziristan’s Hafiz Gul Bahadar and the Haqqani family, who also sponsor al Qaeda in their tribal areas, have not been identified by the Pakistani government as targets of the operation.

The focus on Baitullah to the exclusion of Bahadar, Nazir, and the Haqqanis may prove costly to the Pakistani military. Baitullah has an alliance with Nazir and Bahadar, which was created at the urging of Mullah Omar, Osama bin Laden, and the Haqqanis. There are rumors that Bahadar and Nazir may sit on the sidelines for the operation, but Bahadar has reportedly offered safe passage for Baitullah and his followers to move into Afghanistan.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • KW64 says:

    Baitullah moving into afghanistan to avoid the Pakistani army may not be all that bad if the Allies can form an anvil there to greet them. Alternatively, if they move to North Waziristan it would be OK as long as there is a long term “clear and hold plan” to reduce the areas the Taliban can operate. Not even the US has enough forces to attack everywhere at once. As forces are sufficient to hold South Waziristan, pressure can move on to North Waziristan.

  • Midnight says:

    I have been watching this war for a lor of years, I remember a knew sister coming in who reported for NATO at one time. We all watched the same things and gathered info faster than I have ever seen. I have never left the circle of people that surround me. I don’t ever remember them being so different as now. Weak.
    The point is, I don’t believe that Baitullah will ever be caught. I said that once before but it took rounds of bunker bombing in Iraq and a Sheikh on the ground turned sides to get rid of him. From those of us on the ground I have been smiling a lot lately. I know them and believe he will survive. Oh yes I hope for all of them he does but, the point has already been made and that is as good as a promise. Heads?

  • Zalmay says:

    “The focus on Baitullah to the exclusion of Bahadar, Nazir, and the Haqqanis may prove costly to the Pakistani military.”
    Moving against Pukhtuns will prove costly for Pakistan, the rest are merely tactics on who to target or not target. As Pakistan will be consumed by this fight as it cannot win in the tribal areas (no one can) and as the US abandons Afghanistan after a few more years, India will take advantage to move into Kashmir at the very least if not more.

  • natej740 says:

    Ive waited for this for a long time…..I hope they destroy the Taliban and flush out OBL


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