More than 30,000 Pakistani soldiers launched a major assault on the Taliban's sanctuary in Waziristan early today, following months of airstrikes intended to soften up militant defenses. Officials have given few details but said the troops are pursuing militants holed up in the region. Civilians have been evacuated from the lawless area on the Afghan border, which is believed to be a base for around 10,000 Pakistani militants and 1,500 foreign fighters; all entry routes to the area bigger than a goat track have been sealed off.
Terror attacks have killed nearly 175 people since the military announced their plans for a ground assault on the area two weeks ago. It is the army's fourth attempt since 2001 to dislodge Taliban fighters from the region, and an intelligence official said the latest effort could take up to two months. The three previous attempts ended in negotiated truces that left the Taliban in control. If the offensive fails, analysts tell the AP, it will deal a heavy blow to both the Pakistani goverment and the US war effort in Afghanistan.