Pakistan Update: Ground Offensive in Swat

The Pakistani army has upped the tempo of it’s offensive in Pakistan, switching from air and artillery attacks to an advancing ground offensive. They’ve also blockaded the region, cutting off food to the Fazlullah Taliban insurgents. They’ve also started up a jamming station to block “Radio Maulana’s” voice.

From the Daily Times:

MINGORA: Security forces backed by gunship helicopters and artillery have begun a ground offensive against pro-Taliban militants, killing at least 35 of them and losing two soldiers, the military said on Sunday.

It was the first time ground troops had been used in the Swat region, said army spokesman Major General Waheed Arshad. He said the troops had gained control of mountaintops overlooking three militant-held villages near Mingora in an operation that was launched late on Saturday, reported AP. The troops controlled all entry and exit points to these villages, he added. He said 15 soldiers were also wounded.

“The strongholds of militants are being hit. Troops have demolished their bunkers and destroyed a checkpost,” Arshad said.

Meanwhile, Swat Media Centre spokesman Amjad Iqbal told reporters that three policemen had been injured in fighting in the Balogram, Rahimabad and Barikot areas. Online reported that two of the policemen had sustained minor injuries when militants in Balogram and Rahimabad shot at a mobile police car. In another incident, a Suzuki van parked along the roadside exploded on Saturday night, injuring one soldier.

This is good news, the only worrisome nettle in the stew is that the last time this particular group (TNSM) became highly active it was to mask the escape of Osama Bin Laden from Tora Bora. So it beggars the question: What is happening elsewhere in the hinterlands of the frontiers?

In Political news, Nawaz Sharif has returned to the country to acclaim from his party, and with only minor interference from the government ( a few PML-N activists were arrested) He vows that he will participate in elections with the All Parties Democracy Coalition (APDC) if the PCO emergency rule order is dropped, and all activists for all parties are freed.

UPDATE: Nawaz Sharif registered his candidacy for Prime Minister, Story at AP

Benazir Bhutto is claiming credit for the return of Nawaz, and Nawaz is stating that he made no deals to get back.

In the background President Musharraf has promised to resign as Chief of Army Staff, removing the uniform (wardi) on 11/29 if all goes as planned for the swear in.

Update: more at AP

Update: more on the ground offensive at Captain’s Quarters