12/01/2004

The Pakistan army will withdraw hundreds of troops from the OBL Hunt

Search for bin Laden in Pakistan shifts gears



PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) - The Pakistan army said Saturday that it will withdraw hundreds of troops from a tribal region near Afghanistan where Osama bin Laden and his top deputy were believed to be hiding.

The withdrawals from the South Waziristan area come after military operations by thousands of troops against remnants of bin Laden's al-Qaida organization and its supporters in recent months.

The tribal region is considered a possible hiding place for bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri. But a senior Pakistan general said earlier this month that forces have found no signs of bin Laden, who has been on the run since U.S. forces invaded Afghanistan in October 2001.

The army will remove checkpoints in Wana, the main town in South Waziristan, said Lt. Gen. Safdar Hussain, the top general in northwestern Pakistan. He said the moves are "in return for the support of tribesmen in operations against foreign miscreants."

Some troops will remain in the area, he said. "We have been assured by tribal elders that they will not allow miscreants to hide in areas under their control," Hussain said.

Between 7,000 and 8,000 Pakistani forces were deployed in a three-pronged offensive in the eastern reaches of the rugged region this month. U.S. military forces remain largely on the Afghan side in hopes of capturing or killing any al-Qaida operatives crossing the border.

Earlier this month, U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Lance Smith, deputy commander of Central Command, said it was "essential that Pakistan military continue their operations" in the area, adding that Pakistan has made "very, very positive moves" against al-Qaida in the past six months.

Smith said Pakistan's military was so effective in pressuring al-Qaida leaders hiding in western Pakistan that bin Laden and his top deputies no longer were able to direct terrorist operations.

[Weird, I seem to remember a certain tape sent to Al-Jazeehra... -- law]


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