Speaking to Aljazeera, Major General Shawkat Sultan on Friday denied suggestions that Pakistan was preparing to launch a joint US operation against alleged al-Qaida-linked fighters in Waziristan.

In a joint media briefing with the leader of Pakistani forces in South Waziristan, Major General Niaz Khattak, on Saturday, Sultan said: "Pakistan's army knows better when or where an operation needs to be conducted.

"So far no such operation is planned or in the offing (in North Waziristan)."
 
A total of 52 operations have been conducted against al-Qaida linked fighters and their local supporters in South Waziristan, during which 306 fighters were killed, including 100 foreigners, many of them said to have been Central Asians, Sultan said.

Crossed into Afghanistan


An Uzbek leader, Tahir Yaldash, who was thought to have been injured in fighting with security forces in South Waziristan last year, "is not here and there is a possibility that he has crossed over to Afghanistan with some of his supporters", Sultan said.

Khattak told the group of journalists on Saturday at the Karavan Manza mountaintop army bunker that 500 to 600 alleged al-Qaida-linked fighters were thought to have been hiding in the region.


"It created a wave of anger and hate against the [Pakistani] army"

Zakir Khan,
witness to clashes in which civilians were killed

He also said the military had eliminated these fighters in the southern region.

"We think there is absolutely none in South Waziristan," Khattak said.


Months of fighting

 

Khattak added that the mountain was at the centre of the fighting where alleged al-Qaida fighters had bases.

 

Soldiers fought "for several months" and captured their bases and destroyed their communication system in Karavan Manza, he said.

 

Asked about whether al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden was in the area, Khattak said, "There is no sign of his presence in South Waziristan.


"We never got any information on his whereabouts in South Waziristan. Al-Qaida is no more able to operate here. Their sanctuaries have been destroyed here," Khattak said.


He said less than 100 fighters were thought to be hiding in small bands in the neighbouring North Waziristan region.

Civilians killed


Meanwhile, 18-year-old Zakir Khan, a 10th-grade student in the nearby village of Shakai, said there were several clashes between the army and alleged al-Qaida fighters that killed civilians, including women and children.

"It created a wave of anger and hate against the [Pakistani] army," he said. "But later the army told us that they feel sorrow over the human losses and they gave compensation to them."