- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 28, 2009

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan | Pakistani security forces raided a Taliban hide-out in the southern city of Karachi on Saturday and pounded suspected militant training camps in the northwest, killing at least 20 people and underscoring the nationwide challenge of eradicating insurgents.

Police officials said the foray in Karachi thwarted plans for terrorist attacks in Pakistan’s largest city, while the bombing and shelling of targets in South Waziristan on the border with Afghanistan further weakened the Taliban as the military prepares for a new offensive there.

The government is confronting militants on two fronts in the volatile northwest, and Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud has responded with attacks across the country that have killed more than 100 people in the past month.

The government’s actions are seen as a test of its determination to confront an insurgency that has grown in recent years after earlier military operations failed to finish the job and peace deals with the Taliban collapsed.

In Karachi, police working on a tip raided an apartment early Saturday and warned suspected militants inside to surrender, said Waseem Ahmed, the city’s police chief. Instead, those inside opened fire and the ensuing gunbattle killed five militants and wounded five others. Six militants escaped.

Officers found a cache of weapons and explosives in the apartment, Mr. Ahmed said.

“All the dead belonged to Baitullah Mehsud. They were planning to target the city for their terrorist activities,” he said.

Karachi — a teeming port city of more than 16 million and Pakistan’s commercial hub — has long been a hotbed for Taliban and al Qaeda-linked groups, who are thought to have staged bank robberies, kidnappings for ransom and other criminal activities to raise funds.

Government forces are winding down a two-month-old campaign to oust the Taliban from the Swat Valley region in the northwest, and are turning their attention to a new offensive targeting Mehsud in South Waziristan, his home territory in the tribal belt.

Terrorist training facilities and ammunition dumps in Mehsud’s home village of Makeen and nearby Ladha were hit Saturday by artillery and warplanes dropping bombs, the military said. Similar attacks have struck the villages in recent days.

Saturday’s strikes killed 15 insurgents and wounded 13 more, two intelligence officials said on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose the information.

A Taliban commander, Qari Hussain Ahmad, confirmed the attacks but denied that militants were killed. “The jets are bombing, but we have not suffered any loss,” he said by telephone.

The Taliban also came under fire Saturday in the Upper Dir region bordering Swat, where a 1,000-strong citizens militia — known as a lashkar — has killed an estimated two dozen militants and has trapped others in a few strongholds in the villages of Ghazai Gay and Shatkas.

Militants in the villages attacked the militia Saturday, ending a one-week lull in fighting, said police official Tahir Khan. Militiamen fired back, killing up to five militants, said Malik Motabar Khan, a tribal elder leading the militia.

Lashkars sometimes have been encouraged by the government to take up arms against militants to assist the military. The one in Upper Dir was formed early this month to avenge a suicide bombing at a village mosque in the region that killed 33 people.

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