The Pakistani military has launched its much anticipated ground assault into the Taliban stronghold of South Waziristan.
“The army has launched an operation after receiving orders from the government,” Major General Athar Abbas, the top military spokesman, told AFP. “The operation was launched early in the morning. Both air and ground troops are taking part.”
Infantry and armored columns have begun the advance into the Taliban-controlled regions of Lahda, Makeen, and Sararogha in South Waziristan, where forces are under the control of Hakeemullah and Waliur Rehman Mehsuh.
Large columns of troops have been reported to be moving south from Ramzak, northeast from Wana and Shakai, and northwest from Jandola. Army units are being backed by helicopter gunships and fighter-bombers.
The operation will focus on the eastern areas in South Waziristan that host Hakeemullah Mehsud’s Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. Other powerful Taliban leaders such as Hafiz Gul Bahadar, Mullah Nazir, and Siraj Haqqani will not be targeted.
“The headquarters of the defunct Tehrik-e-Taliban (the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan) in the agency will be surgically targeted to dismantle the network of the terror outfit,” Abbas said.
The Taliban have reportedly struck at Army units as they moved from bases in Ramzak and Jandola. Three soldiers were killed in an IED attack in Ramzak, and another was killed by an IED in Jandola.
Eight Pakistani soldiers were also killed in fierce fighting in Spinkai Raghzai and Sarakai, a US intelligence official told The Long War Journal.
The Pakistani military claimed that 11 Taliban fighters have been killed in airstrikes and only four soldiers have been killed so far.
The military has massed two divisions, an estimated 28,000 troops, to take on the estimated 10,000 Taliban and 1,500 foreign fighters believed to be sheltering in the area.
Some of the Taliban forces are thought to have left South Waziristan to preserve forces, a US intelligence official told The Long War Journal.
“The Taliban appear to want to deny the military a decisive victory so they have pulled up some units and key leaders,” the intelligence official said. “A substantial rearguard unit will be left to bleed the Army.”
The military has said it will clear the Taliban from the region, keep troops in the Taliban stronghold, and will not conduct negotiations with the Taliban as it has in the past.
The offensive was launched as the Taliban have shocked the country with a series of devastating suicide and military assaults on Army, police, government, and civilian targets nationwide. More than 160 people have been killed in attacks since Oct. 5. The attacks include a Taliban assault on the the Army General Headquarters in Rawalpindi and police stations in Lahore, as well as suicide attacks in Islamabad, Peshawar, Kohat, and Shangla.
For more information on the Waziristan operation, including who is and who is not being targeted, the strengths of the Army and the Taliban, and past operations, see LWJ report, “Analysis: What lies ahead in Waziristan.”
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