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Pakistan Launches Offensive in South Waziristan


Pakistani troops, backed by fighter jets, have begun a long-awaited offensive against the Taliban in South Waziristan, near the country's Afghan border.

Pakistani army spokesman (Major General Athar Abbas) confirmed that the operation is under way. Soldiers moved into the insurgent stronghold from three directions Saturday, with some 30,000 troops deployed to take on an estimated 10,000 militants, including "foreign" fighters.

Air strikes and heavy artillery pounded militant hideouts. Officials say at least four soldiers were killed and 12 others wounded Saturday, as clashes took place near Spinkai Raghzai and Sharwangai areas. One soldier was killed in a roadside bombing.

Pakistan's offensive follows a string of brazen attacks that has killed more than 175 people in the last two weeks. The government has blamed the Pakistani Taliban, which is based in South Waziristan, for the violence.

The U.N. refugee agency reports thousands of people are fleeing South Waziristan to escape the ground assault.

U.N. agencies estimate more than 100,000 people in the region have been displaced since May.

A spokesman for the refugee agency says it is working with local partners to distribute relief supplies, including sheets, sleeping mats and kitchen sets to those now fleeing South Waziristan.

Hours ahead of the planned offensive, Pakistani authorities imposed a curfew and turned off mobile phone service in some areas.

Top Pakistani military and political leaders met in Islamabad Friday to discuss the wave of violence, the ground offensive in South Waziristan, and the displacement of people in the region.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani's office said the national consensus is reaffirmed to "establish and maintain the writ of the state to weed out these elements."

Military officials say they hope to complete the operation in two weeks, before winter snows begin.

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