Pakistan suffers reverses in offensive against militants


DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan — Taliban guerrillas recaptured
the birthplace of the Pakistani Taliban leader from the Pakistani army Tuesday,
inflicting the heaviest military losses so far in Pakistan’s high-stakes
offensive in South Waziristan, a refuge for Pakistani extremists, Afghan
insurgents and al-Qaida.

A government attempt to foment a tribal uprising against the
Pakistani Taliban also failed Tuesday. In a meeting with the top Pakistani
official for the tribal areas, elders of the area’s Mehsud clan refused a
request to form a traditional militia, known as a lashkar, to battle the
Taliban who have taken over their territory.

Separately, two suicide bomb blasts at an Islamic university
in Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital, killed six people and wounded at least 20. In
response, many educational institutions, including all schools and colleges in
the Punjab, the country’s most heavily populated province, announced that
they’d close.

The Pakistani offensive appears to be the first serious
operation against extremists in South Waziristan since 2004, when the military
entered the area for the first time. Pakistan has thrown some 30,000 soldiers
into the fight against an estimated 10,000 Taliban, plus some 1,500 foreign
jihadists closely linked to al-Qaida.

However, Kotkai, a town surrounded by high mountains in the
Sararogha area of South Waziristan, remained in Taliban hands late Tuesday
after Pakistani forces were beaten back on the fourth day of the ground
operation in South Waziristan.

The town is the birthplace of Hakimullah Mehsud, the head of
the Pakistani Taliban. The group’s top trainer of suicide bombers, Qari
Hussain, also comes from Kotkai, and he has a madrassa, or Islamic school, just
outside the town in which hundreds of children and young men have been
indoctrinated into suicide attacks.


Security officials, who spoke only on the condition of
anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak to journalists, said that
Pakistani troops had thrust into Kotkai only to be hit by a determined
counteroffensive that killed seven soldiers, including an army major, and
wounded seven more.

There was no official announcement about the Kotkai clash.
In a statement, the army reported that four soldiers had been killed and three
wounded Tuesday in South Waziristan, but those casualties were sustained
elsewhere, bringing the total to 13 soldiers killed since the operation began
Saturday. Twelve “terrorists” also were killed Tuesday, the army
statement said, bringing the official total to 90.

“We gave them a really tough time in Kotkai,”
Taliban spokesman Azam Tariq said, claiming that 40 to 45 soldiers had died in
the battle. He said three militants were killed and four wounded in the Kotkai

Meanwhile, Owais Ghani, the governor of the North West
Frontier Province, who’s in charge of the tribal area, which borders
Afghanistan, called together Mehsud chiefs in the town of Tank on the edge of
South Waziristan and asked them to join the fight.

In a letter dropped from a plane over the tribe’s territory,
Pakistan’s army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, described the Mehsuds as courageous,
loyal Pakistanis and urged them to “rise collectively” against the

“The ongoing operation by the Pakistani army is not
aimed at the patriotic Mehsud tribes,” he wrote. “Instead, the target
is for the good riddance of the Mehsud tribes from the cruel clutches of
terrorist elements who have ruined the law and order and peace of this

However, the Taliban have cemented their hold on South
Waziristan by killing hundreds of traditional tribal leaders, and the tribal
chiefs told Ghani that “in the current hazardous situation, it is not
possible for us to support you,” an official who was present told
McClatchy Newspapers.

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