KALAYA, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistan will consider mounting an anti-Taliban offensive in North Waziristan only when other tribal areas are stabilized, a senior military officer said on Tuesday, a position likely to anger ally Washington.
Pakistan has resisted mounting U.S. pressure to launch a major operation in North Waziristan to eliminate the Haqqani Taliban faction, one of the most dangerous forces fighting American troops over the border in Afghanistan.
Doing so would make no strategic sense for Pakistan because it sees the al Qaeda-linked group as an asset which can help it counter the growing influence of arch-enemy India in Afghanistan.
Pakistan’s army has repeatedly said it is too stretched fighting Taliban insurgents in other forbidding mountaineous regions, and that only it can determine if and when to strike.
Lt.-Gen Asif Yasin Malik, the main military commander for the northwest, said it would take at least six months to clear militants from Bajaur and Mohmand, two of Pakistan’s seven semi-autonomous tribal agencies, described as global hubs for militants.
“What we have to do is stabilise the whole area. I have a very large area in my command,” he told reporters on a trip to Orakzai agency. “The issue is I need more resources.”
There are already six brigades in North Waziristan which carry out daily operations, he said.
The U.S. announced $2 billion in military aid for Pakistan last week as the countries sought to dispel doubts about Islamabad’s commitment to uprooting Islamist insurgents from safe havens on its soil.
In March, Pakistani troops launched an offensive in Orakzai, which officials described as the nerve centre for Pakistan’s Taliban, which included training camps.
Officials said 654 militants were killed in what they described as a successful campaign that ended in June. Militants often dismiss official death tolls. Nearly 70 soldiers were killed.
Pakistan says a series of army offensives severely weakened homegrown Taliban. But militants often melt away, set up strongholds elsewhere or try to return to areas they lost.
At a military camp in Orakzai, weapons and bomb-making equipment army officers said were captured from Taliban hideouts were on display for the media. These included machineguns, rows of AK-47 assault rifles and a suicide vest stuffed with ball bearings.
Officials say militants are no longer capable of staging major operations and are resorting to sniper attacks and roadside bombings. Militants attacked a checkpost manned by paramilitary soldiers in Orakzai on Tuesday, killing one soldier, local officials said
The army is getting villagers involved in efforts to keep the Taliban from returning by providing some of them with rifles.
“By 2012 things should have turned it around totally,” said Malik.
Military officials say the operation broke the back of the Taliban and only 10 percent of Orakzai still needs to be cleared. That may not be easy, given the Taliban’s resilience.
Editing by Ron Popeski