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Pakistani troops capture key town

October 25, 2009|Associated Press

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN — Pakistani soldiers captured the hometown of this country's Taliban chief Saturday, a strategic and symbolic initial prize as the army pushes deeper into a militant stronghold along the Afghan border.

The 8-day-old air and ground offensive in the South Waziristan tribal region is a test of Pakistan's campaign against Islamist militancy. It has spurred a civilian exodus and deadly retaliatory attacks.

Washington has encouraged the operation because many militants in the tribal region are believed to shelter Al Qaeda leaders, and are also suspected of being involved in attacks on Western troops in Afghanistan.

The U.S. military has also kept up its own missile strikes in the tribal belt. An explosion thought to be the result of an attack Saturday by an unmanned U.S. drone aircraft killed 22 people.

The battle for Kotkai was important because it is the hometown of Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud and one of his top deputies, Qari Hussain. It also lies along the way to the major militant base of Sararogha.

The fight was intense, taking several days and involving aerial bombardment, officials said.

The majority of homes in the town were converted into bunkers, and it also was home to a training camp for suicide bombers, army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas told reporters. Troops had begun clearing land mines and roadside bombs.

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