PESHAWAR, Pakistan – The Pakistani army has launched a military operation to clear insurgents from North Waziristan – long a haven for al-Qaida and the Afghan Taliban – and hopes to wind up offensive actions in all its tribal areas by June, according to the Pakistani general who’s in charge of the special paramilitary force for the area.
Maj. Gen. Tariq Khan said the main Pakistani army was leading the assault in North Waziristan with a series of small operations, while his Frontier Corps was leading a major offensive in Orakzai, to which insurgents have fled after operations in other tribal areas.
The Pakistani army hadn’t previously announced a North Waziristan operation.
In an interview with McClatchy Newspapers, Khan said that five of the seven “agencies” of what formerly was called the Federally Administered Tribal Area were now under government control, with only Orakzai and North Waziristan remaining to be “cleared.”
The military then plans to send ground troops to sweep through all of the tribal area.
“This will finish in a couple of months. We’ll take care of all of them. We’re just waiting for the major operations – like Orakzai and North Waziristan – to finish, to spare us the troops to start changing our methodology. Instead of kinetic, concentrated operations, we start search and cordon and sting operations, for which actually you need more boots on the ground,” said Khan, a swashbuckling general who has a reputation for taking extremists head-on.
Khan warned Pakistan’s international partners that the region, which runs along the border with Afghanistan and includes Waziristan and the Khyber Pass, desperately needs development to prevent a resurgence by al-Qaida and the Taliban. He said the minimal level of development needed would cost $1 billion.
However, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, Pakistan’s army chief of staff, told officials in Washington earlier this month that corruption issues and security threats complicate efforts to rebuild the region, and there are few qualified political leaders to assume control when the army withdraws, which he said it was eager to begin doing, according to two U.S. officials who met with Kayani.
The North Waziristan operation is crucial for U.S.-led forces across the border in Afghanistan.
The United States and its NATO allies long have been pressing for action in North Waziristan, a base for al-Qaida and the Haqqani network, one of the most powerful insurgent groups in Afghanistan.