ISLAMABAD, Dec 12 (Reuters) - The Pakistani army has ended its offensive against the Taliban in South Waziristan and may focus on another tribal area to where militants have fled, ministers said on Saturday.
Targeted strikes will still be made if needed, they said.
The operation in South Waziristan, which borders Afghanistan, was the army’s biggest in years involving 30,000 troops. Military officials were not available to say if it had achieved its goals.
“The operation has finished in South Waziristan. Now there is talk of Orakzai,” Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani told reporters in the eastern city of Lahore.
Pakistan’s military say 589 militants and 79 soldiers have been killed in the South Waziristan campaign since it was launched in mid-October. Militants have hit back with bombings that have killed hundreds of people.
Security officials say many of the militants are believed to have fled South Wazirstan to Orakzai, North Waziristan and the Kurram tribal areas.
Orakzai is believed to be the base of Hakimullah Mehsoud, leader of Pakistani Taliban insurgents, and a global hub for al Qaeda and other militant groups. The United States wants Pakistan to tackle them to help its war effort in Afghanistan.
Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik said some security operations would continue throughout South Waziristan.
“Targeted operations are continuing in Waziristan and we will continue to do it wherever these (Taliban) break the writ of the government.”
“Anywhere in the country, wherever we see their activity, we will strike,” he told reporters.
Intelligence officials say paramilitary forces have been cracking down on militants in Orakzai for several weeks. War planes also often attack militant targets.
Government forces now control much of the territory held by forces loyal to Mehsud but they still face pockets of resistance, officials said.
U.S. attempts to push Pakistan to root out Taliban and al Qaeda fighters, as well as American drone aircraft attacks on suspected militants, have created intense anti-American sentiments in Pakistan and raised political tensions.
U.S. President Barack Obama has said victory in Afghanistan will only be possible with strong Pakistani cooperation and stronger efforts to wipe out militant sanctuaries here.
Pakistani officials fear his plans to send 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan will push militants over the border and create new troubles for the government, which also faces the task of trying to improve an economy damaged by security fears.
U.S. ally Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari is fighting for his political survival so he may not be in a position to persuade the powerful military to focus on border areas while it tries to stamp out the Taliban insurgency.
Militants demonstrated their resilience with an attack by suicide bombers and gunmen that killed at least 40 people near Pakistan’s military headquarters on Dec. 4.
(Writing by Michael Georgy)
For more Reuters coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan, see: here