Pakistan's latest offensive close to the Afghan border has uprooted Taliban militants from long-held sanctuaries, an action the Obama administration says is crucial to success in Afghanistan amid surging violence against U.S. troops.
But questions remain over whether the insurgents have slipped away into the mountains of South Waziristan or beyond to fight another day as they have done before in the region. Also unclear is whether the army will push its assault into other areas in the northwest where the U.S. says commanders responsible for much of the Afghan insurgency are based.
The army ferried reporters by helicopter to parts of South Waziristan on Tuesday, the only way media can visit the remote and sparsely populated region. Humanitarian workers are also banned, meaning there have been few, if any, independent accounts from the battlefield.
Reporters were shown Ladha and Sararogha towns, which were both militant hubs before the offensive started in mid-October. Commanders said Pakistani troops have retaken most population centers, roads and strategic high ground in the region but that insurgents remain in parts of the countryside.
"The terrorists declared this region would be the graveyard of the Pakistani army, but we proved them otherwise," said Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas.
As well as being the stronghold of the Taliban, Pakistan's deadliest militant network, South Waziristan has long been a refuge for Al Qaeda leaders who fled here following the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001. It's considered a possible hiding place for Osama bin Laden.
The army has tried three times since 2004 to defeat the Taliban here, but each attempt ended in negotiated truces after the military suffered heavy casualties.
The current offensive was launched after an onslaught of terrorist attacks around the country and the death of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud in a CIA missile strike in August. More than 200,000 people have fled and now live outside the region. There was no sign of civilians in areas visited or flown over Tuesday.