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Pakistani Forces Pound Taliban In S. Waziristan

Pakistani police arrest a suspect after a suicide car-bomb attack outside a police station in Kohat on October 15.
DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan (Reuters) -- Pakistani forces backed by heavy artillery have attacked Taliban as the army moves to wrest control of militant strongholds in a lawless region on the Afghan border.

The offensive follows a string of brazen militant attacks in different parts of the country, including an assault on army headquarters, in which more than 150 people were killed.

"There has been artillery fire throughout the night. It was very heavy firing," Noor Wali, a resident of Wana, the main town in the South Waziristan region, said by telephone.

The army said on October 18 that 60 militants and five soldiers had been killed in the first 24 hours of the long-awaited offensive launched on the militants in their South Waziristan bastion, which is a global Islamist hub.

There was no independent verification of the casualty toll.

About 28,000 soldiers are battling an estimated 10,000 hard-core Taliban, including about 1,000 tough Uzbek fighters and some Arab Al-Qaeda members.

The militants have had years to prepare their bunkers in the land of arid mountains and sparse forests cut through by dried-up creeks and ravines.

The army says it has surrounded the militants in their main zone, a wedge of territory in the north of South Waziristan, and soldiers backed by aircraft and artillery are attacking from the north, southwest and southeast.

Foreign reporters are not allowed in to the area, and it is dangerous for Pakistani reporters to visit. Many of the Pakistani reporters based in South Waziristan have left.

The army has launched brief offensives in South Waziristan before, the first in 2004 when it suffered heavy casualties before striking a peace pact.

But this time analysts say the army, the government and the general public all agree that the time has come to deal with the Pakistani Taliban.