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Pakistan push in N.Waziristan needs time: general

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By William Maclean

AMMAN:Pakistani forces, under U.S. pressure to enter the militant bastion of North Waziristan, will do so but in their own time and when adequate resources are available, a Pakistani general said on Monday.

Lieutenant General Sardar Mahmood Ali Khan, Deputy Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, added that such a big task in the mountainous northwest was not “firefighting” and had to be done in sequence with other battles.

Pakistan has come under fresh U.S. pressure to send troops into north Waziristan after a failed bombing in New York claimed by Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the Taliban Movement of Pakistan, which has fighters in northwestern areas including North Waziristan.

Speaking on the sidelines of a conference in Jordan of special operations force commanders, Khan said the army was still busy consolidating its operations following an earlier push into South Waziristan and needed to adhere to a schedule for what he called a long campaign.

Asked if troops would eventually go into North Waziristan, home to a complex web of militant groups, to attack fighters there, he replied: “Of course, all these areas which are affected are on our agenda, yes.”

“LONG DRAWN WAR”

“It is a long-drawn battle, a long-drawn war, and we are continuing and there is a definite plan, there is a definite strategy which is being followed. It is just not firefighting, because there’s a whole lot of areas affected by this (militancy).”

“Given the limitation of resources and troops involvement and not to leave one portion undone and going to another (too soon), it is sequential. In every area we have already got forces which are busy consolidating.”

Some Western officials have questioned the determination of Pakistan to tackle militants while the long-time U.S. ally addresses other problems, from a sluggish economy to power cuts that have made the government unpopular.

Pakistan has proven capable of capturing militants, including some of al Qaeda’s most notorious heavyweights. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the accused mastermind of the September 11 attacks, was arrested in Pakistan in 2003.

But Khan said North Waziristan’s geography made it an exceptionally difficult region in which to wage war and suggested any move into the region could not be done lightly.

He referred to a presentation on mountain warfare given at the conference by a special forces colleague, Major General Farrukh Bashir, commander of the Pakistani military’s Special Services Group.

Bashir enumerated many obstacles to mountain fighting, including difficulties in helicopter use, in achieving surprise, the need for large numbers of troops acclimatised for high altitude, and very restricted manoeuvrability.

Bashir told the audience: “Pakistan has the capacity and resolve to defeat militancy. We only expect the international community to understand the nature of the conflict. Some conflicts are very difficult to bring to an end quickly.”

Asked if he would accept more U.S. special forces to Pakistan, Khan declined to reply directly, noting there had been a limited number of these forces doing training in Pakistan for some time and they continued to play that role.

Another participant in the conference, organised by the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, was Major General Charles Cleveland, Commander of Special Operations for U.S. Central Command, which includes Afghanistan.

He told Reuters he had “no idea” whether more special forces would be going to Pakistan and added that it was not his decision to make.

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