Pakistan pushes Taliban out of Bajaur
Pakistan pushes Taliban out of Bajaurhttp://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/afp_asiapacific/view/412146/1/.html
Posted: 28 February 2009 1811 hrs
KHAR, Pakistan : Pakistani has cleared a troubled tribal district of Taliban militants near the border with Afghanistan after a military operation lasting nearly six months, a commander said Saturday.
Heavy artillery and gunship helicopters have pounded Bajaur, one of Pakistan's seven federally-administered tribal areas (FATA) along the Afghan border, in a bid to flush out militant bases, killing hundreds.
"We think that we have secured this agency," said major general Tariq Khan,
the commander of forces fighting in Bajaur, using a local word to refer to the district.
"They have lost. They have lost their cohesion out here," he told reporters flown by helicopters from the capital, Islamabad.
Khan said some troops may be withdrawn from Bajaur but the bulk would remain for some time.
"There will be a gradual reduction of the army but the army is not going to pull out for some time," Khan said and added that in other five tribal districts the forces would more or less finish military operations soon.
The operation has seen the deaths of 97 soldiers from the Pakistan army and the paramilitary Frontier Corps, while 404 troops were injured, he said.
Tariq said about 50 percent of the militants were Afghans and some Sudanese and Egyptians had been killed in Bajuar in the initial stages of operation.
To prevent the cross-border movement of Taliban militants Khan recommended fencing the rugged and porous border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
He described a unilateral ceasefire declared by Taliban on Monday as "a face-saving statement".
"We have not accepted that ceasefire. There was no question of ceasefire, the resistance has melted, dissolved. It is not there," he said.
Shafir Ullah, the chief of the Bajaur civil administration, said 1,600 militants were killed and more than 2,000 were injured while some 150 civilians also died and about 2,000 were injured in the fighting.
The pitched battles and bombardment had destroyed about 5,000 homes in an area covering 80 percent of the combat zone, Ullah said.
Pakistan's semi-autonomous northwestern tribal belt has become a stronghold for hundreds of extremists who fled Afghanistan after the US-led invasion toppled the hardline Taliban regime in late 2001.
Islamabad says the Bajaur offensive is proof of its commitment to crushing insurgents, despite heavy criticism from US and Afghan officials who say Pakistan is not doing enough to stop militants crossing into Afghanistan.