Pak Taliban chief’s hometown overrun

PESHAWAR: Pakistan said today it had captured Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud’s hometown as the US demonstrated its support for the war on the Islamists with an air strike that killed 14 people.

Security sources said the army overran Mehsud’s town of Kotkai overnight after three days of aerial bombardments which had underlined the huge challenge facing the military in taking on the Taliban in their tribal heartland.

And in another part of the northwest tribal belt, a missile fired by an unmanned US drone spy plane killed at least 14 people including three foreign militants, local officials said. With the militants continuing to carry out attacks nationwide since the army began a major offensive in the South Waziristan tribal region a week ago, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said the unrest had hit every sector of society.

Although figures are

impossible to verify, the army says more than 140 militants and 20 troops have been killed in the week-long South Waziristan offensive.

While no casualty figures were immediately available from Kotkai, several security officials said the fighting there was over. There has been no word on the whereabouts of Mehsud since the operation began.

“Security forces took control of Kotkai overnight and a clearance operation is in progress,” a security official told AFP on condition of anonymity, describing the capture as “a major breakthrough”.

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

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

While US ground troops are not free to operate in Pakistan, it has carried out a series of air strikes by unmanned planes known as drones. The latest killed at least 14 people in the Bajaur district, to the north of Waziristan, and officials said the toll was likely to rise. One security official said that a house was targeted in Damadola village, saying those killed included three foreign militants.

Another security official said that a tunnel linked to a bunker in the house of a relative of local Tehreek-e-Taliban chief Maulvi Faqir Mohammad was targeted.

Announcing plans for both himself and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to visit soon, Richard Holbrooke, President Barack Obama’s special envoy to the region, said the US is “very impressed with the Pakistani resolve”.

“They know what the stakes are. And having spent a lot of time with (army chief) General (Ashfaq) Kayani and his colleagues, I know how determined they are,” Holbrooke told reporters in US.