- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 9, 2009

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan | Maulana Fazlullah, the commander of the Pakistani Taliban in the northwest Swat Valley, has been reported injured during an offensive against the insurgents, an army spokesman said Wednesday.

In South Waziristan, suspected U.S. drones launched two missile attacks on Taliban targets Wednesday, killing at least 45 militants, intelligence officials said.

The Pakistani army has “credible” information that Fazlullah was hit, military spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas told reporters in Islamabad, but gave no details about the hard-line cleric’s condition.

“In one of the strikes, Fazlullah has been injured,” he said. He told Agence France-Presse later that the air strike wounding the radical cleric occurred Monday in Swat.

Fazlullah is the architect of a nearly two-year Taliban uprising to enforce Shariah law in the Swat Valley, where the military have been engaged in a two-month battle to dislodge the Islamist fighters.

Pakistan has offered a $615,000 reward for information leading to Fazlullah’s death or capture.

Fazlullah is a son-in-law of elderly pro-Taliban cleric Sufi Mohammad, who secured a government deal to put 3 million people in the northwest under Shariah law in February - an agreement that failed to stem the fighting.

Armed Taliban instead marched into the district of Buner in April, putting Fazlullah’s fighters within 60 miles of the national capital Islamabad. In response, Pakistan unleashed a military offensive.

Gen. Abbas said the operation in Swat and two other northwest districts was almost over, but that the top leadership remained elusive, with many simply disappearing into the mountains of the rugged region.

As Swat operations wind down, military and government officials have vowed to open up a second front against Pakistan’s main Taliban commander, Baitullah Mehsud, who is holed up in the lawless South Waziristan tribal areas along the Afghan border.

Pakistan’s military is bombing and firing mortars at insurgent targets in the region, even as suspected U.S. drones move against Taliban targets in the region. U.S. and Pakistani militaries deny they coordinate their operations in the region.

The first strike Wednesday was carried out before dawn. A suspected U.S. drone fired six missiles at a mountaintop training camp in the Karwan Manza area of South Waziristan, killing 10 militants, intelligence officials said on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Hours later, 12 miles to the east, missiles believed fired from a U.S. drone hit four vehicles carrying Taliban militants, killing at least 35, including a Taliban commander, an intelligence official told the Associated Press. The official did not disclose the commander’s identity.

Other intelligence officials put the death toll as high as 50. U.S. officials would not publicly comment on the strikes.

The latest strike brings to six the number of suspected American missile attacks in South Waziristan in just over two weeks, an uptick that suggests Washington is also trying to kill or weaken Mehsud and his followers in the run-up to the Pakistani campaign.

From combined dispatches

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