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October 25, 2009

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Pakistani success to retake city

Pakistani forces backed by helicopter gunships and artillery recaptured a strategic town from Taliban militants after fierce fighting, officials said yesterday.

Kotkai town in South Waziristan has changed hands three times since the army launched a major offensive on Taliban strongholds a week ago, highlighting the difficulty of seizing territorial advantage in the rugged mountains and valleys near Afghanistan.

It is also the birthplace of Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud and the hometown of Qari Hussain Mehsud, a senior commander known as "the mentor of suicide bombers."

The offensive is a test of the government's determination to tackle Islamist fundamentalists, and the campaign is being closely followed by the United States and other powers embroiled in Afghanistan's growing conflict.

The militants have responded by stepping up a campaign of suicide bomb attacks and commando raids that have killed more than 150 people and wounded even more in the past three weeks.

A senior government official said security forces entered Kotkai on Friday evening and were now clearing the area. Government troops first took the town on Monday, but the Taliban retook control a day later.

"A fierce battle was fought there and now our forces have taken control of the town and a mopping-up operation is going on," said the official.

Another security official said at least eight militants were killed in the fighting.

Officials said security forces were now advancing toward another Taliban bastion, Kanigorum.


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