Pakistanis Mired in Brutal Battle to Oust Taliban

LOE SAM, Pakistan — When Pakistan’s army retook this strategic stronghold from the Taliba last month, it discovered how deeply Islamic militants had encroached on — and literally dug into — Pakistani territory.

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Behind mud-walled family compounds in the Bajaur area, a vital corridor to Afghanistan through Pakistan’s tribal belt, Taliban insurgents created a network of tunnels to store arms and move about undetected.

Some tunnels stretched for more than half a mile and were equipped with ventilation systems so that fighters could withstand a long siege. In some places, it took barrages of 500-pound bombs to break the tunnels apart.

“These were not for ordinary battle,” said Gen. Tariq Khan, the commander of the Pakistan Frontier Corps, who led the army’s campaign against the Taliban in the area.

After three months of sometimes fierce fighting, the Pakistani Army controls a small slice of Bajaur. But what was initially portrayed as a paramilitary action to restore order in the area has become the most sustained military campaign by the Pakistani Army against the Taliban and its backers in Al Qaeda since Pakistan allied itself with the United States in 2001.

By Jane Perlez and Pir Zubair Shah
The New York Times

 

Above: Pakistani soldiers walk down a road in Loe Sam town in Bajaur tribal region. Pool photo by Emilio Morenatti

President-elect Barack Obama has pledged to make the conflicts in Afghanistan and Pakistan a top priority. The Bajaur campaign serves as a cautionary tale of the formidable challenge that even a full-scale military effort faces in flushing the Taliban and Al Qaeda from rugged northern Pakistan.

Pakistani officials describe the area as the keystone of an arc of militancy that stretches across the semiautonomous tribal region of Pakistan and into Afghanistan.

Under heavy pressure from the United States, Pakistani officials are vowing to dislodge the Taliban fighters and their Qaeda allies who have taken refuge in the tribal areas.

But a two-day visit to Loe Sam and Khar, the capital of Bajaur, arranged for foreign journalists by the Pakistani military, suggested that Pakistan had underestimated a battle-hardened opponent fighting tenaciously to protect its mountainous stronghold.

Taliban militants remain entrenched in many areas. Even along the road to Loe Sam, which the army laboriously cleared, sniper fire from militants continues.

Read the rest:
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/11/world/asia/11pstan.html?_r=1&hp&oref=slogin

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