June 29, 2008
PESHAWAR, Pakistan - Paramilitary troops returned Sunday to posts they had been forced to abandon and Pakistani forces widened their offensive against militants operating in a volatile tribal area along the Afghan border, an official said.
The government launched the operation Saturday against militants in the Khyber region who had grown more brazen in their attacks in recent months. The militants began threatening the nearby city of Peshawar and ambushing supply convoys bound for U.S.-led coalition troops in Afghanistan.
The military operation appears to be a shift in strategy by Pakistan's new government, backing its calls for peace deals in the tribal areas with the threat of forceful action against militants who get out of line.
The United States has criticized the move for peace deals, saying it gives militants the freedom to regroup for attacks on U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
Troops from the paramilitary Frontier Corps, backed by tanks and armored personnel carriers, quickly cleared militants out of the Bara region, said Muhammad Siddiq Khan, a local official.
A tribal paramilitary force that had been forced to abandon its posts in the region several months ago returned to the checkpoints Sunday, he said.
The Frontier Corps met no resistance as it moved into other areas outside Bara, destroying militant bases along the way, he said.
On Saturday, authorities shelled militant hideouts and blew up the headquarters of militant leader Menghal Bagh, who had apparently fled. Another possible target was Haji Namdar's Vice and Virtue Movement, which is suspected of attacks against coalition soldiers in Afghanistan.
Baitullah Mehsud, the top Taliban leader in Pakistan, said he was suspending talks between his allies and the government in the wake of the offensive and implied his forces could cause trouble in Pakistan's main cities.
Maj. Gen. Alam Khattak, head of the Frontier Corps, hinted this would not be the only operation against militants and other officials said the volatile Swat region could be next.
On Sunday, a remote-controlled bomb blast killed two soldiers on a foot patrol in Swat's Matta area, a former militant stronghold, army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said.
Pro-Taliban fighters have battled security forces in Swat in recent months, despite a peace deal between militants and the new provincial government.