Pak Army tightens siege of Hakimullah's hometown Kotkai



Islamabad: Pakistan military used warplanes and attack helicopters to dislodge Taliban militants blocking its bid to overrun their strong bases as 13 militants were killed in continuing heavy fighting for the key towns of Kotkai, Makeen and Ladha in the country's lawless tribal belt.

For the fourth day today, pitched battles continued in South Waziristan for sway over Kotkai, the hometown of Pakistan Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud.

With the 13 militants killed, the militant toll has gone up to 150 since Operation Rah-e-Nijat or Path to Salvation was launched on October 17, an Army statement said.

Two soldiers also died in the fighting raising the Army's death figure to 20 in the last seven days.

Army captured the ridge of Shishamwam after an intense engagement, paving the way for its advance on Kotkai from the east also. The capture of the town would open the doors for forces to march on to Taliban hubs of Saragoha and Jandola.

Seven militants and a soldier were killed and two soldiers injured in intense fighting around Kotkai over the past 24 hours, the military said.

Six Uzbek fighters, including a commander, and a soldier were killed and five soldiers injured in fighting near Sherwangi, where the Taliban have put up stiff resistance.

Though troops had secured Sherwangi and nearby heights, militants were firing rockets from different locations on advancing forces, the military said.Militants also attacked a key security forces camp at Razmak in North Waziristan with rockets and mortars though there were no reports of casualties.

Meanwhile, in an apparent bid by militants to extend the conflict to the country's heartland, a suicide bomber struck a strategic air force complex at Kamra, about 50 km from Islamabad, while a car bombing targeted a restaurant in the northwestern city of Peshawar, killing eight persons.

Dozens have died in a wave of bombings and suicide attacks carried out by militants across the country.

The military has said the operation is progressing slower than expected though troops have advanced into Taliban strongholds on three fronts.

People fleeing the fighting in South Waziristan have said they had seen the Taliban digging in to prepare for a prolonged campaign.

People flocking to safety in Dera Ismail Khan and Tank in Pakistan's northwest said they had seen no ground forces on the way though helicopters and combat jets were pounding militant positions.

They said they had seen a lot of Taliban fighters roaming around in vehicles and digging trenches on mountains and heights.

Security forces apprehended six militants at check posts in Dera Ismail Khan and Tank.

Troops continued search and clearance operations in the northwestern Swat valley and parts of the Malakand division.

Three militants were killed near Nijigram while 15 suspects were captured from different areas of Swat.

Seven militants surrendered to security forces in areas around Mingora, the main town in Swat.

The Army claims it has killed over 2,000 militants in operations across the Malakand division.

Over 300 soldiers have also died in fighting in this region since May.

Bureau Report