The Pakistani army launched a major ground offensive against militants Saturday in the country’s lawless northwest, according to military and government officials.
About 28,000 Pakistani soldiers have moved into the epicenter of Taliban activity in the vast tribal region of South Waziristan, said two military officials and a source inside the prime minister’s office, who did not want to be identified because they were not authorized to speak to the media. Pakistani officials say about 10,000 militants linked to the Taliban or al Qaeda operate in South Waziristan, a harsh terrain familiar to militants but difficult for others to navigate. The military had stepped up its campaign, carrying out airstrikes on militant hideouts in South Waziristan that officials had said were aimed at softening up targets before ground troops moved in. But despite those efforts, militants have continued to strike with relative impunity inside Pakistan, brazenly targeting government, police and security locations. The latest attack occurred Friday in the northern city of Peshawar, when a suicide car bomber detonated near a police station, killing 13 people — most of them civilians.
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The recent wave of deadly attacks has raised concerns about the ability of Pakistan’s security forces to maintain control. The attacks heightened internal and international pressure on the government to take swift and effective action. In a high-level meeting Friday, army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani “gave a detailed briefing on the prevailing national security situation and its ramifications in the future,” according to a statement from the prime minister’s office. Those who attended the meeting condemned the recent attacks and “agreed that these elements pose a serious threat to the sovereignty and integrity of the state,” the statement said.
The attacks show “once again that the militants in Pakistan threaten both Pakistan and the United States,” White House Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton said. On Thursday, U.S. President Barack Obama approved an additional $7.5 billion in assistance to Pakistan over the next five years.