Pakistan’s army has demolished several terrorist hideouts and killed 30 to 40 militants but failed to capture a former Guantanamo Bay prisoner accused of targeting security forces in a tense tribal region, officials said Saturday.
The troops took control of some militant strongholds and seized a weapons cache during the assault, launched this week in South Waziristan to capture foreign fighters and Pakistani militant leader Abdullah Mehsud, said Maj. Gen. Niaz Khatak, the army’s field commander.
“Our forces this week killed an estimated 30 to 40 militants in the areas of Mehsud,” Khatak told reporters.
However, he said forces had so far recovered only six bodies and that the operation was continuing in the areas where Mehsud is believed to be on the run. Thousands of soldiers are taking part.
Islamabad is a key ally of the United States in its war on terror, and officials say hundreds of Central Asian, Afghan and Arab militants are in hiding in South Waziristan — possibly including Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri.
Khatak said Pakistani forces haven’t uncovered any information about bin Laden’s whereabouts.
Pakistan, with about 70,000 troops along the Afghan border, has carried out a series of military operations this year that have left scores of soldiers, militants and civilians dead.
Mehsud is accused of organizing the kidnapping last month of two Chinese engineers in the tribal region near Afghanistan, where they had been building a dam. One of the Chinese men was killed and one was rescued when commandos raided a home in South Waziristan. All five hostage-takers were killed.
Mehsud, 28, was freed in March after about two years of detention at the U.S. prison for terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
After returning to Pakistan, he emerged as a rebel leader, opposing Pakistan’s army as it hunts foreign militants and their supporters in the country’s semiautonomous tribal regions.