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Tuesday, October 20,2009

Pakistan suffers reverses in offensive against militants

By McClatchy-Tribune News Service

DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan — Taliban guerrillas recaptured the birthplace of the Pakistani Taliban leader from the Pakistani army Tuesday, inflicting the heaviest military losses so far in Pakistan's high-stakes offensive in South Waziristan, a refuge for Pakistani extremists, Afghan insurgents and al-Qaida.

A government attempt to foment a tribal uprising against the Pakistani Taliban also failed Tuesday. In a meeting with the top Pakistani official for the tribal areas, elders of the area's Mehsud clan refused a request to form a traditional militia, known as a lashkar, to battle the Taliban who have taken over their territory.

Separately, two suicide bomb blasts at an Islamic university in Islamabad, Pakistan's capital, killed six people and wounded at least 20. In response, many educational institutions, including all schools and colleges in the Punjab, the country's most heavily populated province, announced that they'd close.

The Pakistani offensive appears to be the first serious operation against extremists in South Waziristan since 2004, when the military entered the area for the first time. Pakistan has thrown some 30,000 soldiers into the fight against an estimated 10,000 Taliban, plus some 1,500 foreign jihadists closely linked to al-Qaida.

However, Kotkai, a town surrounded by high mountains in the Sararogha area of South Waziristan, remained in Taliban hands late Tuesday after Pakistani forces were beaten back on the fourth day of the ground operation in South Waziristan.

The town is the birthplace of Hakimullah Mehsud, the head of the Pakistani Taliban. The group's top trainer of suicide bombers, Qari Hussain, also comes from Kotkai, and he has a madrassa, or Islamic school, just outside the town in which hundreds of children and young men have been indoctrinated into suicide attacks.

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