Battle intensifies as Taliban retake Pakistani town
Islamabad, October 20, 2009
Taliban militants attacked Pakistani forces and recaptured a strategic town on Tuesday while two suicide bomb blasts at an Islamic university in the capital killed six people and wounded at least 20, officials said.
The government made an immediate link between the university attack and an offensive against the Taliban, with Interior Minister Rehman Malik saying "all roads are leading towards South Waziristan".
Fighting for control of the lawless area is a major test of the government's ability to tackle an increasingly brazen insurgency that has seen a string of attacks in various parts of the country.
The army on Monday captured the small town of Kotkai, the birthplace of Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud on the approach to an insurgent base in south Waziristan, but militants struck back on Tuesday to retake it, security officials said.
Two suicide bomb blasts at the International Islamic University in Islamabad on Tuesday -- the first since the offensive began -- killed six people, including the bombers, and wounded at least 20, officials said.
The sprawling university teaches over 12,000 students, nearly half of them female and including hundreds of foreigners, focusing on education that incorporates Islam in modern times.
"Those who attacked the university have shown that they are neither friends of Islam nor of Pakistan," minister Malik said.
"Those carrying out this aggression are just testing nerves of our nation."
Remote and rugged South Waziristan, with its rocky mountains and patchy forests cut through by dry creeks and ravines, is a global hub for militants, and the offensive is being closely followed by the United States and other powers embroiled in Afghanistan.
An intelligence official said jets bombed Taliban positions in and around Kotkai after the militant counter-attack.
The town, also the home town of Qari Hussain Mehsud, a senior Taliban commander known as "the mentor of suicide bombers", is a gateway to a militant stronghold at Sararogha.
It is not possible to verify independently reports from the battle zone as foreign reporters are not allowed in and it is dangerous for Pakistani reporters to visit. Many of the Pakistani media based in South Waziristan have left.
The army says 90 militants and 13 soldiers have been killed since the long-awaited offensive began on Saturday. - Reuters