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Pakistani armed forces say they have captured the town of Kotkaion Saturday, the hometown of Taliban Chief Hakimullah Mehsud andone of his top officers, Qari Hussain.

This comes after a week-long battle was launched on Monday, inpart of an operation to curb the influence of the Taliban in SouthWaziristan. The operation began the previous Saturday whenPakistani forces approached from three separate areas of SouthWaziristan. Pakistan plans to trap Taliban within the area whileapproaching the towns of Makeen and Ladha, both of which are majorTaliban strongholds.

Major General Athar Abbas, the chief spokesman for the military,said at a news briefing that “we have complete control of Kotkai, astronghold of the terrorists, where most of the houses had beenconverted into strong bunkers. This is a very important developmenttactically.”

So far, Pakistani officials have reported that 163 militantshave been killed, while the military sustained 23 casualties.However, there was no independent confirmation for the tolls.

The entire area has been closed off, but there have been recentacts of violence which have officials worried. In recent weeks,Pakistan has seen attacks on police centers, military headquartersand a UN building. There have also been five attacks on an Islamicuniversity in Islamabad, the capital.

It has been reported that over 21,000 civilian families, anestimated 153,000 individuals, have fled South Waziristan, and havetaken refuge in the North-West Frontier Province.

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