Pakistan army says scores of Islamic militants killed, captured

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Pakistani army says it killed 40 Islamic militants and arrested 30 during two days of fighting along its border with Afghanistan. The United States, meanwhile, has offered to train Pakistani security forces in their fight against the al-Qaeda-linked militants.

The fighting took place in South Waziristan province late Wednesday and Thursday. The army says security forces backed by helicopters attacked suspected hideouts of militants led by the country's most wanted man, Baitullah Mehsud.

In recent months, bomb attacks blamed on Mehsud's followers have claimed the lives of more than four hundred people throughout the country. Most of the violence has been aimed at the security forces, but both the United States and the Pakistani government blame Mehsud for the assassination last month of the opposition leader and former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto.

The army has retaliated with raids like the one this week, and can claim some battlefield success. The military said Thursday it had cleared three districts of militants, losing eight soldiers in the fighting.

But not everyone believes this is an effective way to deal with the insurgents.

The tribal region is a traditionally lawless and conservative region, whose inhabitants have been said to have never trusted the central Pakistani government. The region is also now home to scores of Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters who fled Afghanistan after the U.S.-led invasion of that country in 2001.

Retired Lieutenant General Asad Durrani, the former chief of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence group, is now a noted political analyst. He says the army's increased activity in the tribal areas only exacerbates the problem.

"It increases the level of insurgency in that area and that is what has been happening for the last, about four years," said Durrani. "It is never a good thing, especially when you are using it [force] against your own people…This was the wrong approach."

Instead, Durrani says, the government should try to resolve the conflict through existing tribal structures, and mediation by influential figures trusted by both sides.

As fighting intensified in the region this week, Admiral William Fallon, the head of the U.S. military's Central Command, proposed that U.S. troops help train the Pakistani security forces in their fight against the militants.

Durrani said that if the government agrees, it will anger many Pakistanis.

"It will make it worse…There is hardly anything anyone can teach us…The environments are different," he said. "The approach may be generally the same, but the environments are different. So only we, and with the involvement of the people there, can resolve it. There is no special training required."

The government has not yet replied to Admiral Fallon's offer.


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