INTERVIEW
 
Pakistan Army Says 66 Militants Killed in Northwest
Bloomberg
June 11, 2009
Pakistan’s army said 66 militants were killed in the northwest in the last 24 hours as troops and local tribesmen pursue an offensive to rout the Taliban.

Four soldiers died and 12 were hurt in parts of the Swat Valley, Buner and Dir districts and in South Waziristan, a tribal region on the border with Afghanistan, the military said on its Web site today. One civilian was killed and two were injured by a rocket fired by militants in Bannu, near North Waziristan. Nine insurgents were arrested.

As many as 400 militants attacked forces in South Waziristan late yesterday, the army said. Tribesmen destroyed three of their hideouts and an ammunition dump in Dir. In North West Frontier Province, provincial minister Mian Nasir was hurt today when gunmen attacked his car, GEO television said.

Pakistani security forces say they are close to driving insurgents from the Swat Valley and neighboring districts. The offensive began April 26 when the Taliban violated a February peace accord that introduced Islamic law in the region and advanced to within 100 kilometers (62 miles) of Islamabad.

The U.S. says insurgents have regrouped in the tribal areas from where they threaten the nuclear-armed nation’s security and hamper the fight in neighboring Afghanistan. The Obama administration has pledged $1.5 billion in annual aid on the condition Pakistan tackles extremists.

Hotel Attack

The latest battles follow a suicide-bomb attack on June 9 that killed 16 people, including two United Nations employees, at the five-star Pearl Continental Hotel in the northwestern city of Peshawar. Pakistani authorities have linked bombings in the northwest to the army’s offensive and say Pakistani Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud had warned of retaliation.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik has said the majority of terrorist attacks are planned in South Waziristan.

Pakistan first sent troops into the tribal areas to confront Taliban and al-Qaeda militants in 2003. Hundreds of soldiers were killed and others taken hostage as tribal chiefs who opposed the advance backed their fellow ethnic Pashtuns in the Taliban.

The chances of a successful campaign are better now, with tribesmen less likely to support the insurgents, Ishtiaq Ahmed, associate professor of international relations at Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad, said in an interview.

The tribal regions guard their semi-autonomy. The central government is represented in each tribal agency by one agent under an accord between elders and Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, after independence from Britain 62 years ago.

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