A Taliban spokesman denied Tuesday that Pakistan has won a series of battlefield victories in its offensive in tribal South Waziristan, saying the militants are drawing government soldiers into a trap.
"We are prepared for a long war," Azam Tariq told an Associated Press reporter by telephone. "The areas we are withdrawing from, and the ones the army is claiming to have won, are being vacated by us as part of a strategy. The strategy is to let the army get in a trap, and then fight a long war."
Tariq also denied army claims that hundreds of militants have been killed, saying only 11 have died so far.
In mid-October, the Pakistani government launched an offensive in the South Waziristan tribal region, viewed as the main stronghold in the country of both the Taliban and al-Qaida. The military says it has pressed deep into Taliban territory and captured some Taliban strongholds. The offensive has drawn retaliatory militant attacks across Pakistan.
A few hours after Tariq's claim, the army announced that 21 militants had been killed in the past 24 hours in South Waziristan and that government forces were continuing to press into Taliban territory. It said in a statement that one government soldier had died in the past day.
Much of the fighting was in Sararogha, a Taliban base where militant leaders have long operated openly, occasionally even using it for news conferences. The army said it killed 16 fighters there as it tried to clear the town of militants.
What is actually happening, though, is impossible to confirm.
Pakistan has effectively sealed off the tribal areas, semiautonomous regions where the central government in Islamabad has long had only minimal authority. Journalists have only been allowed near combat areas on carefully choreographed military trips.