ISLAMABAD: Pakistani troops will need months to prepare for a ground offensive against the Taliban in their South Waziristan stronghold on the Afghan border, an army commander said on Tuesday, citing equipment shortages.
Visiting US envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke has said that the United States is scrambling to get the equipment the Pakistani army needs and that the timing of any ground operation was up to the army and government.
‘It’s going to take months,’ Lieutenant-General Nadeem Ahmed told a small group of reporters after briefing Holbrooke, when asked how long it would take the army to move into South Waziristan.
Pakistani forces have bottled up Taliban fighters in their tribal lands in South Waziristan, a rugged region on the border with Afghanistan. Pakistani warplanes have attacked Taliban positions and US drone aircraft have launched several missile strikes like the one that apparently killed militant leader Baitullah Mehsud.
Ahmed said the Pakistani military was now trying to create the right conditions for launching a future ground offensive by imposing a ‘tight’ blockade around the area.
He said attack planes, helicopters and artillery were being used to hit militant targets.
‘Once you feel that the conditions are right and you have been able to substantially dent their infrastructure and their fighting capacity, then you go in for a ground offensive,’ Ahmed said. ‘That may happen in winter, or even beyond, probably.’
Ahmed said the army was currently short of ‘the right kind of equipment’ to mount a large-scale ground operation, and urged Holbrooke to help Pakistan obtain Cobra attack helicopters and other equipment.
Ahmed said many of the military’s helicopters were still being used in an offensive against militants in the Swat valley, northwest of Islamabad, and that they needed maintenance before being sent into Waziristan.
A US military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Pentagon was ‘very aware of the counter-insurgency needs of the Pakistani military’.
‘We know they have shortfalls and we’re working hard to get them the equipment as soon as possible,’ the official said.