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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Pakistani al-Qaeda camps destroyed

A week of fighting between al-Qaeda loyalists and tribal militants in a remote Pakistani border region has almost completely destroyed camps used by a leading terrorist from Uzbekistan, Pakistani intelligence officials claimed on Thursday.

The claim, if true, could mark not only a success in Pakistan’s war against militants hiding on its soil, but could also vindicate Pakistan’s position on two controversial agreements signed by the government with tribal elders in the region bordering Afghanistan.

General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s military ruler, last year ordered his troops home from the North Waziristan border region after deals that would see local tribal elders policing the region themselves. The move has been widely criticised as giving freer rein for militants to launch cross-border attacks into Afghanistan on US and Nato forces.

Pakistani intelligence officials, however, claimed on Thursday, after a week of fighting that left more than 100 people dead, the infrastructure used by loyalists of Tahir Yuldashev, the pro al-Qaeda militant, had been wiped out. More than half the people killed so far were said to be Uzbek Islamists who took refuge on the Pakistani side of the border after US-led forces ousted the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001.

“There’s no way to confirm if Yuldashev himself may be dead. But what I know for certain is that his group has suffered heavy casualties,” said one Pakistani intelligence official. “It’s hard to imagine if the Uzbeks have any firepower remaining to carry on in the tribal areas”.

Western diplomats warned that there was no way of independently confirming the claim. “Since the Pakistanis do not let anyone from the outside to freely venture around the tribal areas, it’s impossible to know what is happening,” said one.

Abdul Sattar, Pakistan’s former foreign minister, said the challenge of militancy in the tribal areas was too complex to be resolved quickly.

“The people of the tribal area are fed up of militants present among them. But the militants have had a long-term presence in the tribal areas. You can’t get rid of them in one go.”
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