From atop a craggy hillock, the silver-haired Lt. Col. Javed Baloch gestures toward a small black opening in a sandstone outcropping. It’s the mouth of a cave.
Two minutes later a powerful explosion rattles the hillock, and a massive plume of grayish-white smoke rushes skyward.
Cave by cave, the Pakistani army is trying to blow up the underground labyrinth running from tribal areas toward the border withto keep militants away.
This is the front line of Pakistan’s battle against militants on its own soil. The three-month-old offensive is the country’s most aggressive effort to date, countering U.S. and Afghan charges that it is not doing enough to root out al-Qaida fighters who crisscross the border. It is also the Pakistani military’s first foray into the Bajur region, where militants are dug in and have in places set up a parallel administration.and
By KATHY GANNON, Associated Press Writer
Pakistani Taliban militants seen here in Mamouzai in November, 2008.(AFP/File/Tariq Mahmood)
An Associated Press team traveled with the Pakistani military deep into a tribal area late last month, almost to the Afghan border. The operation shows the army can put pressure on militants and even wrest some territory back from them, but it may never be able to drive them out from a rugged area of nooks and crannies. More militants are already sneaking in from Afghanistan as reinforcements, and U.S. troops in Afghanistan have installed 68 motion sensors along the border to try to detect them.
The battle is for Bajur, a key base and transit route for Arab and other foreign militants headed for Afghanistan. Here a CIA drone once targeted al-Qaida’s No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri, without success.