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Saturday, October 25, 2008

Pakistan steps up pressure on foreign militants

The BBC reports that the Pakistani Army has taken the village of Loisam in the Bajaur tribal region of northwest Pakistan. Major General Tariq Khan of the Pakistan Army said that nearly 1,500 insurgents and 73 security personnel have been killed in the offensive. The BBC, however, were unable to independently verify this information

Bajaur is one of seven semi-autonomous ethnic Pashtun regions in northwest Pakistan, where al Qaeda and Taliban have been expanding their influence in recent years.

The village of Loisam is on a cross-roads and controls access to three of four nearby valleys. Its capture is expected to disrupt communications and infiltration routes used by foreign militants. Loisam has been a base for hundreds of foreign Islamist militants, including Afghans, Chechens, Uzbeks and Tajiks. And Taleban raids into Afghanistan are regularly launched from the area.

The Pakistan parliament has been taking a harder line recently against their country being used to launch attacks on Afghanistan. This offensive against Loisam is the latest success in an operation that began in early August.

Pakistani authorities are encouraging Pashtun tribesmen to revive traditional militias known as lashkars, to take on the militants and secure areas captured by the army. A similar strategy to the Awakening Council movement in Iraq, in which Sunni tribesmen have risen against al Qaeda and driven them from their neighborhoods with help from the Iraqi government and US military.

The tribes of Bajaur supported the Islamist guerrillas in the 1980s in their battle against Soviet forces occupying Afghanistan. But, as one tribal elder remarked, the new generation of fighters had brought nothing but trouble: "Enough is enough."

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