- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 1, 2009

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan | A decision by Taliban militants to withdraw from a peace deal in a tribal region close to the Afghan border threatens to open a new front for the Pakistan army as it battles the insurgents in two other areas.

The militants in North Waziristan blamed continuing U.S. missile strikes and army offensives against the Taliban for their decision, which was announced in the wake of a Taliban ambush that killed 16 soldiers.

The agreement in North Waziristan had appeared to keep things relatively peaceful there - calmer than in neighboring South Waziristan, where the army is preparing for a major offensive aimed at Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud.

The deal was struck with a Taliban faction led by Hafiz Gul Bahadur.

“This accord is being scrapped because of Pakistan’s failure to stop the American drone attacks in North and South Waziristan,” Bahadur spokesman Ahmadullah Ahmadi told the Associated Press via phone Monday. “Since the army is attacking us in North and South Waziristan, we will also attack them.”

The disintegration of the truce in North Waziristan was the latest failure of a government pact with local Taliban leaders. The agreements have been criticized abroad because they effectively cede space to the insurgents.

The current government offensive in the Swat Valley - which began after a peace deal there fell apart - and an artillery and air campaign in South Waziristan have been praised by the United States, which has been trying since the Sept. 11 attacks to get Islamabad to take military action against Taliban and al Qaeda fighters in the border region.

Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas vowed Tuesday to avenge the ambush by the Taliban.

“There is now a new situation in North Waziristan,” Gen. Abbas said. “Lets see how we are going to handle this,” he said, declining to elaborate.

The border region is a lawless, mountainous region where the central government has little control.

The military claims to have killed more than 1,000 fighters in Swat and has retaken much of the district, but most of the about 2 million people who fled the fighting have yet to return.

The scrapping of the accord in North Waziristan adds to the difficulties facing the army.

“The group they are trying to neutralize has become bigger, as has the area they will need to contain them,” said Shahzad Chaudhry, the former deputy head of the Pakistani air force and a security analyst. “The attempt was to try and reduce the size of the opposing forces, but now it seems the army has a bigger problem at hand. It will have to be a long-haul fight now.”

Details of the peace deal had not been made public, but it had appeared to cause a reduction in attacks on Pakistani military targets in North Waziristan compared with other parts of the border region. But U.S. and NATO commanders in Afghanistan said the region was being used by fighters there as a safe haven.

A car bombing Tuesday struck trucks taking supplies to Western troops in Afghanistan, killing four people in Pakistan’s southwest, police said. No one took responsibility for the explosion in Baluchistan province, but militants have frequently targeted supply trucks for U.S. and NATO troops that travel through Pakistani territory.

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