Pakistani forces were close to overrunning all three Taliban strongholds in South Waziristan as they killed 18 militants in fierce fresh battles in the lawless region and adjoining areas over the last 24 hours.

While the Army has taken control of two Taliban hubs of Sararogha and Ladha, they were battling for full control over Makeen, which they described as “nerve centre” of Pakistani Taliban.

With the capture of these towns, Army would be nearing seizing almost all the South Waziristan, raising question marks, whether they will pause or march into North Waziristan.

Declaring that the Operation Rah-i-Nijat (path of salvation) was being conducted “very effectively”, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said the Army campaign will be completed before the expected time frame.

The fighting over the last 24 hours left a total of 12 militants dead and five Pakistani soldiers wounded, the military said in a statement.

Army also said that large cache of weapons and ammunition have been recovered as troops in the course of operations came across tunnels dug deep into the mountainside to store weapons.

Taliban struck back by attacking an Army check-post in Torawari village in neighbouring Hangu area killing three paramilitary soldiers. Troops based in the nearby forts responded by killing at least six attackers.

As the Taliban strongholds started falling, media reports said that the Army would pause in its campaign after the capture of Makeen.

Geo TV said that the second phase of the operation would involve clearing all the areas captured in South Waziristan of mines, roadside bombs and bringing governance back to these areas.

Pakistan Army having vowed to crush Tehrik-i-Taliban by the military campaign said so far around 470 militants have been killed and many others arrested while 45 soldiers, including officers, had lost their lives.

But despite the tall claims, no top Taliban or al-Qaeda or Uzbek commander has been killed or captured in the three week long military campaign.

The military statement today said soldiers are “in the process of securing Makeen” and the eastern edge of the town was cleared.

It said, heaviest fighting was reported from around Makeen, which the army has described as the “base headquarters of terrorists”. Eight militants were killed when troops engaged and destroyed a vehicle that was fleeing the area.

Three soldiers, including two officers, were injured in firing by militants during a clearance operation. A large quantity of arms and ammunition was found in several compounds in Makeen.

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