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Pakistan Prepares Final Push In South Waziristan

(file photo) Pakistan's military says it will remove remaining Al-Qaeda fighters and other Islamic militants from the mountainous region along the country's border with Afghanistan within the next six weeks. The pledge was made by the top field commander in a Pakistani offensive against militants in the semi-autonomous tribal agency of South Waziristan -- an area where Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is thought to have passed through after fleeing Afghanistan in late 2001.

14 November 2004 -- A top general in Pakistan's army says his troops will cleanse Al-Qaeda linked militants from a district near the Afghan border by year's end. But the general says there is still no sign of the top target of the U.S.-led war on terrorism, Al-Qaeda head Osama bin Laden.

The announcement was made today by Major General Niaz Khattak, the field commander of Pakistani troops who are hunting the remnants of Al-Qaeda in South Waziristan.

"We have made substantial spatial gains in South Waziristan. We have caused considerable attrition on [the part of] the militants. We have busted their main bases.... We have broken their [spirit]. And we have instilled a little confidence in the people to come back and take care of their soil against the militants," Khattak said.

General Khattak spoke from the windy escarpment of Karwana Manzai -- a strategic position in South Waziristan that was seized from militants in September. The position has since come under repeated assault by militants that Khattak describes as the "lowest tier" of Al-Qaeda fighters -- mainly Uzbeks, Chechens, Tajiks, and Afghans who are supported by renegade local tribesmen.

Khattak says his troops now control three-fourths of South Waziristan and are preparing operations aimed at flushing out militants from the remainder of the region.

The northern quadrant of South Waziristan is the only area where Pakistan's military has yet to extend its control.

In recent days, Khattak says his troops have recovered a huge cache of weapons and ammunition from a position that was being used by former Guantanamo Bay prisoner Abdullah Mahsud -- a tribal leader who is high on Pakistan's list of wanted Islamic militants.
"We have busted their main bases.... We have broken their [spirit]." -- General Khattak

There is no immediate information confirming Mahsud's whereabouts. But Khattak says he probably has fled to the northern part of South Waziristan. Mahsud is accused of planning the kidnapping of two Chinese engineers in Pakistan last month.

Pakistani military officials say they have killed up to 40 suspected militants this month and destroyed several militant hide-outs in South Waziristan.

That death toll marks a dramatic acceleration in the campaign against Al-Qaeda on Pakistan's side of the border. Altogether, nearly 300 militants are thought to have been killed since Pakistan launched the offensive in March.

U.S. and Afghan officials estimate that hundreds of Al-Qaeda and Taliban fugitives poured from Afghanistan into Pakistan's semi-autonomous tribal regions in late 2001 after a U.S.-led invasion toppled Afghanistan's hard-line Islamic Taliban regime.