Pakistan’s generals have called the offensive the “mother of all battles” for the survival of a country under siege.
There were reports of Taliban compounds coming under aerial bombardment from Pakistan gunships as troops moved out in three columns from Razmak to the north, Jandola to the east and Shakai in the west, and advanced on notorious Taliban target towns like Makeen and Ladha.
The significance of Pakistan’s army having Makeen in its sights will not have been lost on Pakistan’s president, Asif Zardari: the late Taliban leader, Baitullah Mehsud, was in Makeen when he was allegedly recorded on a telephone intercept claiming responsibility for the assassination of Mr Zardari’s wife, Benazir Bhutto, the former Pakistan prime minister. [continued…]
The attacks in advance of the army’s ground offensive in South Waziristan were widespread, taking place in three of the country’s four provinces and involving not just Taliban tribesmen from the Pashtun ethnic group, but extremist Punjabi factions who were until recently trained by the Interservices Intelligence (ISI) to fight India in Kashmir.
Several of the militants killed had direct connections to the army or the ISI. ‘Dr Usman’, the leader of the group that attacked the army headquarters in Rawalpindi last weekend and held 42 hostages for 22 hours inside the compound, was a member of the army’s medical corps.
That attack and three subsequent co-ordinated strikes in Lahore on Thursday on police training compounds and an intelligence office also appeared to be inside jobs, as the terrorists knew the lay out and security arrangements of all the complexes. The intelligence building and one police compound had been attacked by militants in 2008 and 2009 and since then their security arrangements had been improved, but still the attackers knew how to bypass security.
While the army is unwilling to admit what many Pakistanis now believe – that there is penetration by extremist sympathisers within its ranks – the government also refuses to admit that the largest province of Punjab has become the major new recruiting ground for militants. [continued…]