Pak army takes Hakimulla hometown

PESHAWAR: The Pakistani military has captured the hometown of Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud in the country's South Waziristan tribal belt, security sources said on Saturday.

"Security forces took control of Kotkai overnight and a clearance operation is in progress," a security official told AFP on condition of anonymity at the start of the second week of a major anti-Taliban offensive.

"It is a major breakthrough because it was the stronghold of Taliban and hometown of Hakimullah Mehsud and Qari Hussain," he added, also referring to a reputed trainer of suicide bombers.

Another security official said ground forces had surrounded the Kotkai village for the past three days as jets and helicopter gunships pounded militant positions.

"Security forces entered Kotkai late Friday after they had secured important heights behind it," the official said.

The army launched the operation last Saturday, pitting around 30,000 troops against an estimated 10-12,000 Taliban fighters where Al-Qaeda linked militants are believed to have plotted attacks against the West as well as in Pakistan.

The army has promised to make the Taliban leadership a particular target of their offensive and sealed off the main road into Koktai last weekend.

Pakistan's semi-autonomous northwest tribal belt has become a stronghold for hundreds of extremists who fled Afghanistan after the US-led invasion toppled the hardline Taliban regime in neighbouring Afghanistan in late 2001.

Although the government has said the offensive will deal a decisive blow to the militants, they have continued to carry out attacks in Pakistani cities since the start of the offensive.

On Friday, a bomb attack outside a Pakistani Air Force base killed eight people, including six civilians and two air force personnel.