The Pakistan military's Operation Rah-e-Najat or "Path of Riddance" against insurgents in the tribal South Waziristan area is the government's toughest offensive since 2001. The target region is believed to be the crux of the growing Taliban and al Qaeda movement within Pakistan.
Both U.S. and Pakistani officials believe the majority of suicide attacks are carried out by a militant multi-national insurgency recruited and brought to the area to train.
Pakistani and insurgent officials have both claimed early victories, but independant confirmation is hard to come by.
The Pakistan army launched the offensive on Saturday after an emergency cabinet meeting in Islamabad. At least 28,000 Pakistani troops moved into the remote region in northwest Pakistan, near the Afghan border, from the south, east and north, the government says. They are backed by artillery and fighter jets.
South Waziristan is home to the Mehsud tribe. Operation Rah-e-Nejat is intended to "free the Mehsud tribesmen from the clutches of terrorists" according to the Pakistan army. The Mehsud live in highly fortified compounds designed to defend against the enemy, and have a reputation as fearless fighters.
Several top leadership posts within the Taliban in Pakistan's senior circle are held by Mehsud militants. In August 2009, the group acknowledged that their leader Baitullah Mehsud, had been killed in a U.S. airstrike on Aug. 5. Hakimullah Mehsud, from the same tribe, took his place. The Mehsud militancy twice signed peace deals with the Pakistani government, once in February 2005 and again in January 2008. Both times the group reportedly used the lull to expand influence and activity in the area.
The Pakistan army dropped leaflets across South Waziristan communities with a letter from the army chief Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani asking the local population to rise up against the militancy. The first drop occurred on Tuesday, according to the Web site All Things Pakistan, which also translated a portion of the letter:
"The aim of the current military operation is not to attack proud and patriotic Mehsuds but it is to save them from the clutches of ruthless terrorists who have destroyed peace of the whole region. Therefore the aim of this operation will be Uzbek terrorists, foreign terrorists and local terrorists…I am hopeful that Mehsud tribes will side with the Pakistan military in this operation."
There is a fear that if the militants are rooted out of the region they will spread across the country and insight violence elsewhere.
"There is always the possibility of terrorists sneaking from the neighboring agencies or from outside. That cannot be ruled out," said Abbas, the Pakistani military spokesman, in a briefing Tuesday. "We are very confident that we will be able to block any bulk of movement."