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Pakistani Taliban Vow Tough Guerrilla War

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) -- Pakistani Taliban have started a guerrilla war against the army and will wage a tough, protracted fight in the insurgents' South Waziristan stronghold, a Taliban spokesman said today.

The army went on the offensive in South Waziristan, a lawless ethnic Pashtun region on the Afghan border, on October 17, aiming to root out Pakistani Taliban militants behind a wave of violence in urban areas.

The offensive is closely watched by the United States and other powers embroiled in Afghanistan, as South Waziristan's rugged landscape of barren mountains, patchy forest and hidden ravines has become a global centre of Islamist militancy.

Soldiers have been advancing into the militant heartland from three directions, have captured a string of important bases and entered the Taliban headquarters in the town of Makeen, the army said.

But Taliban spokesman Azam Tariq played down the militants' losses.

"They are capturing roads while our people are still operating in the forests and mountains," Tariq told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location.

"We have started guerrilla war against the Pakistani army. We've carried out several actions against the army and inflicted heavy losses on them," he said.

According to army figures, 486 militants have been killed since the offensive began while 48 soldiers have died.

There has been no independent verification of casualties as reporters and other independent observers are not allowed into the war zone except on an occasional trip with the military.

The violence has unsettled trade on Pakistan's stock market.

Tariq vowed a long, tough fight.

"They thought they would capture Waziristan easily but the fight in Waziristan will be tougher than in Kashmir," he said.

Indian security forces have been battling separatist guerrillas in the disputed Muslim-majority Himalayan region of Kashmir since 1989. Tens of thousands of people have been killed.

The militants have stepped up attacks in town and cities since the offensive was launched, killing several hundred people.

Asked about the attacks, most carried out by suicide bombers, Tariq said: "Whoever harms our movement will be given a lesson."

The government says Tariq's real name is Raees Khan Mehsud and has offered a reward of $5 million for information leading to his capture "dead or alive."

The government has also offered rewards for 18 other top Pakistani Taliban members, including leader Hakimullah Mehsud.