Islamabad (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Pakistani army continues its offensive against strongholds of Taliban and al Qaeda in South Waziristan, which began on October 17. The military has set up five base camps in mountainous regions bordering Afghanistan in an attempt to isolate the fundamentalists. Military sources speak of 60 deaths among soldiers and five Taliban were killed, the figures have not been independently confirmed because Pakistani and foreign journalists have no access to the area, but some residents refer to "dozens of deaths."
Over the weekend at least 20 thousand civilians fled towards the town of Dera Ismail Khan, to escape the conflict. The fighting continued all night in different parts of South Wazirisian, and the army seems to have slowed its advance toward the heart of the region in an effort to consolidate positions gained until a new, more powerful attack.
The Pakistani army has grouped two divisions, for a total of 28 thousand troops, to which are added paramilitary forces for control of the border. The number of Taliban is estimated between 10 and 12 thousand, with a number of foreign fighters - mainly Uzbeks - between 500 and 5 thousand. The heavy artillery has repeatedly struck positions of the extremists in Wana, Servakai, Manzai, Jandolo and Razmak, north, south and east of operation area. The Air Force has directed its attacks on Taliban bases in Makeen, Nawazkot, Spinkamar and Khaisora.
Local BBC sources report that the army has gained control of the mountain chain of Ingalmall, a strategic passage of access to Afghanistan. An essential factor to cut supplies to the extremists, who in response have launched heavy artillery shells towards the military. According to the Pakistani newspaper Daily Times, quoting military sources, in the last 24 hours there were 60 deaths among the Taliban, five "martyrs" among government soldiers and 11 wounded.
Meanwhile, Islamabad has ordered the closure for a week of schools and institutions in the capital and other cities. The measure aims to prevent bands of extremists from taking students or teachers hostage, in an attempt to halt the army's offensive in South Waziristan. Security measures have been strengthened throughout Pakistan; in Islamabad and in rural areas around the capital, police have searched Islamic seminaries and schools in search of extremists.