Pakistan launches assault in Taliban stronghold

In a photo provided by the Pakistani army, soldiers carry out a house-to-house search for suspected militants in Miranshah, in the North Waziristan region of northwest Pakistan, June 30, 2014. Pakistani Army handout

ISLAMABAD -- The Pakistan army has launched a long-awaited ground offensive against Taliban militants in the country's North Waziristan region, along the Afghan border.

A senior army official and two Pakistani government ministers told journalists Tuesday that the operation would continue until Pakistani forces are able to take complete control of areas currently under Taliban control.

"The terrorists will be killed," said one of the three officials, who discussed the operation with CBS News and other media outlets on the condition of anonymity.

The military showed off the first-ever images of a crude Taliban bomb factory, allegedly captured by the Pakistani army on Monday. The images show dozens of empty gas cylinders and reinforced iron pipes; items which were purportedly destined to become improvised explosive devices (IEDs), the Taliban's weapon of choice as it continues to battle U.S.-led forces in neighboring Afghanistan, and Pakistan's own security services on this side of the border.

"As you can see, the Taliban will use every means to kill innocent people," said the army official.

A Pakistan army official who spoke to CBS News on background separately from the briefing said Pakistani army commandoes were entering villages in North Waziristan where suspected militants were still hiding.

"For the past fortnight, we have sent the air force to bomb suspected Taliban strongholds, and we have also used artillery and tanks," he said. "Now the militants who may have survived will be targeted. You can imagine there will be cases of hand-to-hand combat."

A photo provided by the Pakistani army shows mechanized units in formation in advance of a ground operation near Miranshah, North Wazirastan
A photo provided by the Pakistani army shows mechanized units in formation in advance of a ground operation near Miranshah, North Wazirastan, in Pakistan's northwest, June 30, 2014.
Pakistani Army handout

The campaign in North Waziristan is being watched closely by the commanders of U.S.-International Security Assistance Force-Afghanistan (ISAF), as Washington and its allies wind down involvement in the conflict.

U.S. leaders have urged Pakistan to go after the militants in North Waziristan for years, arguing that attacks on Western forces in Afghanistan were often staged by Taliban members who could move freely across the border and use the remote, rugged terrain as their base to regroup.

Finally, the ground offensive began this week, after more than two weeks of airstrikes against suspected Taliban targets in the region. That phase gave hundreds of thousands of civilians a chance to North Waziristan ahead of the military's full assault.

Pakistanis have been struck by television news video showing an estimated 500,000 people fleeing North Waziristan in anticipation of the intense fighting in the days ahead. Many have taken refuge in army-run camps, others have fled to stay with friends or relatives in other parts of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, where North Waziristan is located.

People who fled the military offensive against Pakistani militants in North Waziristan line up to receive food from the army in Bannu, in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province
People who fled the military offensive against Pakistani militants in North Waziristan line up to receive food from the army in Bannu, in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, June 25, 2014.
REUTERS

Though Pakistan insists the North Waziristan campaign will finally clear the region of militant strongholds, American and other Western officials are reserving judgment.

For the U.S., an important litmus test for the new campaign will be the extent to which Pakistani forces appear to take on the powerful Taliban-allied Haqqani network.

For years, U.S. officials have complained to Pakistan over reports that the army and the army-run Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) have provided protection to fighters from the Haqqani network, using them as armed proxies to push Islamabad's interests in Afghanistan and India's predominantly Muslim state of Kashmir, where an Islamic insurgency has raged for years.

One of the two Pakistani government ministers who spoke to journalists on Tuesday dismissed those concerns, insisting all armed militants would be targeted.

"Haqqanis or no Haqqanis, militancy will not be tolerated in Pakistan in future," he said.

  • Farhan Bokhari

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