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Pakistan Launches Large Ground Offensive Against Taliban

Pakistan has launched a major offensive against the Taliban in North Waziristan, mobilizing some 70,000 soldiers and launching air attacks against insurgents in the region.

Reporting from Islamabad, NPR's Philip Reeves tells our Newscast unit the offensive comes after militants stormed the Karachi airport a week ago, leaving 37 people dead.

Philip filed this report:

"For months, Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has sought to make peace with this country's Taliban.

"But talks went nowhere and after the assault on the nation's airport, all hope of their revival disappeared. So, now, under great pressure from Pakistan's generals, Sharif's turned to the army and signed off on the other option — war.

"The military says it's launching what calls a 'comprehensive operation' against terrorists in North Waziristan, adding that it plans to deny them space across Pakistan.

"One military source told NPR that this'll include a ground offensive involving tens of thousands of troops.

"Tens of thousand of people have fled the area, fearing violence. In Pakistan's big cities, extra government paramilitary forces are on the streets, in case the militants retaliate."

Philip adds that Pakistan is saying at least 50 militants have been killed by the air attacks launched so far.

Pakistan's Dawn reports that the government named the operation Zarb-e-Azb and in a statement explained it was launching the offensive against terrorists who have been "disrupting our national life in all its dimensions."

Maj. Gen. Asim Bajwa went on: "Our valiant armed forces have been tasked to eliminate these terrorists regardless of hue and color, along with their sanctuaries."

The Los Angeles Times reports this is an offensive the United States has been pushing Pakistan to take on for a long time, warning that this kind of operation would be difficult with harsher weather.

"Some Pentagon officials also worry that the departure of most U.S. troops from neighboring Afghanistan at the end of the year could give insurgents on both sides of the border — including the Afghan Taliban, ideological cousins to the Taliban in Pakistan — more freedom to operate," the Times reports.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.

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