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Pakistan plans military operation in North Waziristan: WP

27 February, 2014

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WASHINGTON: The Pakistani government is on the verge of launching a major military offensive in the North Waziristan tribal region after brutal Taliban attacks in recent weeks and the apparent failure of peace talks with the militants, according to a senior Pakistani official.

"It could be any day," said the official, adding that military plans have been shared with top U.S. officials, who have long urged an offensive, according to The Washington Post.

Planning for the operation comes amid a Pakistan-requested pause in U.S. drone strikes that is entering its third month — the longest period without such an attack in more than two years — and high-level bilateral meetings.

Pakistan's defense secretary, Asif Yasin Malik, is heading a delegation of security officials in Washington. CIA Director John Brennan quietly visited Pakistan last week, days after Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, head of the U.S. Central Command, held meetings at military headquarters in Rawalpindi.

With 150,000 troops already based in the tribal regions, the senior Pakistani official said the government is prepared to begin a full-fledged clearing operation. "We really don't have to start from scratch," the official said.

He said an official evacuation had yet to begin but noted that tens of thousands of residents, who he said were "spooked" by reports of an imminent government attack, had left on their own.

U.S. officials, while hailing the current level of cooperation and saying that they are encouraged by Pakistan's apparent determination, noted that they have been frequently disappointed in the past. "We'll believe it when we see it," said one U.S. official, who like other American and Pakistani officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss diplomatic contacts and military plans.

"We're not doing it for their happiness," the senior Pakistani official said of the United States' urging. Instead, he said, the execution last week of 23 Pakistani soldiers held by the Pakistani Taliban since 2010, along with several recent attacks, including one that killed 19 at a Karachi police station, have turned public opinion against the militants and the sputtering peace talks. That has opened new political space for military action.

The senior Pakistani official cautioned that the government has not formally declared the talks a failure and said that "it's politically important for the government to take this to its logical conclusion."

At least one round of talks had taken place, with no dis­cern­ible results, when the execution of the Pakistani soldiers occurred. In recent days, the government has carried out several retaliatory airstrikes that it says killed dozens of militants in North Waziristan.

The official said government targeting would "not discriminate" among the TTP, the Haqqani network and other militant groups in North Waziristan, including al-Qaeda.

U.S. officials have long attributed Pakistan's reluctance to attack there to ties between its intelligence and Afghan groups, such as the Haqqani network, as well as Pakistan's desire to keep its options open in Afghanistan, should U.S. efforts there fail and the Afghan Taliban return to power.

Pakistan has repeatedly denied the charges and said it would take action that suited its own strategic priorities.

End.

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