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Pakistani Forces Capture Strategic Town


Pakistani security forces say they have made significant gains in their ongoing offensive in a tribal region bordering Afghanistan. The two-month military operation in the Bajaur area, they say, has killed more than 1,500 militants while 73 soldiers also have died. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from the border village of Loisam the Pakistani military reclaimed this week.

By taking the key settlement of Loisam in the troubled north-western region, Pakistani military authorities say they have dealt a severe blow to communication lines of militants linked to al-Qaida and Taliban in the Bajaur region. The village was completely destroyed after heavy fighting.

The operation in the region began in early August after several major attacks on the army.

The commander of the ongoing operation in Bajaur, Major-General Tariq Khan, told a group of local and foreign reporters on Saturday that troops were now in complete control of the town of Loisam. But he acknowledged the militants had been offering stiff resistance to his soldiers from their network of tunnels and fortified compounds.

"It was a very unusual kind of battle," said General Khan. "It was not conventional. The resistance would dissolve in places wherever we would attack. It would regroup and reappear in the rear. This was facilitated by the underground tunnels that were made with caches of weapons that had been stored and placed all over."

Bajaur is one of the tribal areas on the Afghan border where the government has previously had little influence. Taliban and al-Qaida raids into Afghanistan from this mountainous tribal region are regularly launched from here.

General Khan says that elimination of militants from this agency will discourage militancy in other tribal areas. "The worst is over and I think things from here onward will be much easier. In my personal feeling, I think we have turned the corner," he said.

The Pakistani government is also encouraging tribesmen to revive traditional militias, known as lashkars, to rout out militants in their areas. But General Khan rejected criticism that the militias could pose a threat to Pakistani authority once the militants are evicted. He also denied media reports the government is providing the Lashkars with weapons.

"We are not providing any weapons or any kind of support to the lashkars [tribal militias] and they are made up with their own resources," said General Khan. "It dissolves after if has met its objectives."

Pakistani authorities say that 300 foreign militants had been arrested during the offensive. Uzbeks, Tajiks and Afghans are among the detainees.


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