Pakistan Launches Attack on Taliban

Abdul Majeed Afridi doesn't want to sell CDs anymore. He doesn't want to spend his days in his hometown. All he wants is for the militants to leave.

"These thugs and kidnappers have tried to become the Taliban of the area," he told ABC News from Dara Adam Khel, a village in the tribal region of northwest Pakistan. "Residents are not happy with these people, and I hope this operation carries on until they're all finished."

That "operation" is a huge clash between troops and militants, launched Friday by Pakistan, part of an ominous trend of the military, battling its enemies closer and closer to major population centers.

Frontier corpsmen, backed by artillery and helicopter gunships, attacked hideouts, used by Taliban militants, in a battle that the military says will take "days."

"We tried to negotiate, this morning, and when all the negotiations failed, we had no option," said Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, a spokesman for the military. "Twenty-five to 30 miscreants have been killed, and two security forces were killed."

It is the first time that the Pakistani frontier corps has battled militants in Dara Adam Khel, a town that is no stranger to guns, but has not, up until now, hosted the radicals, who the government blames for more than 20 suicide attacks in the last three months, including the one that killed former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

The influence of the Taliban is spreading to previously peaceful urban areas in northwest Pakistan, towns like Peshawar and Mardan and, today, Dara Adam Khel. You can see it in the CD and DVD shops that have closed, the schools that have been threatened, because the female students aren't wearing burqas, and in the fear among the local residents.

"The militancy is spreading. The militants have become much more bolder, and much more effective," says Talat Masood, a retired army general, who has become a vocal critic of the government. "The frontier corps is least prepared for this sort of insurgency. They're not meant for this role at all."

Dara Adam Khel lies along a route that connects the Northwest Frontier Province with the heart of the country. Just to the south is Waziristan, a Taliban stronghold. To the north is Peshawar, the area's largest city, and the army's regional headquarters. Politicians in Peshawar describe a town that used to be free of violence. Now, there is a rocket launch, or suicide attack, or bomb blast once a week.

"People are fed up," Afridi said from Dara Adam Khel. "A lot of people have started to leave the area, because they think the operation will take some time."

So many people have had to flee their homes, the government has set up a temporary camp in the Tank area of the frontier, for the displaced, the BBC reported. Tents and food are available for residents who are too scared to stay at home.

Violence creates fear, and that fear has spread from the border regions to the cities, including the capital of Islamabad, which has, so far, been spared from the most recent spate of attacks.

"You never know what's going to happen. Bomb blasts everywhere," Tehseen Shah, who recently moved to Spain and is trying to relocate his wife there, told ABC News, while sitting in his old bedroom in Islamabad. "We are not safe when we go to the market. There's a lot of people around us, and from inside our hearts, [we fear] there might be a bomb blast."

The fight on Friday came one day after militants hijacked at least four trucks filled with ammunition, destined for the frontier corps. As the militants, who say they are now united as the "Taliban of Pakistan," become bolder and probe deeper into Pakistan's cities toward the capital of Islamabad, it becomes increasingly difficult for the military to battle them.

"It's not such an easy thing that you can win this war. For the militants, there is no such thing as winning. Even if it's a stalemate, they're winning," Masood said. The frontier corps are "not really meant for taking on these militants, who are far, far more equipped, have better intelligence, are more motivated, and even better trained," he said.

Last week, militants attacked a fort and killed more than 20 soldiers. The next day, militants threatened another fort — and the soldiers fled before they were even attacked.

Over the last few weeks, the militants have increased their campaign against the military in the area, and have often inflicted many casualties on an overmatched frontier corps.

The government says almost 100,000 troops are currently stationed in the northwest, and just this week, announced it was sending more troops to the region, and reinforcing the ones already there with more weaponry.

Taliban commanders met Friday in Waziristan, Retuers reported, ordering their fighters to step up attacks on Pakistani security forces.

The United States is considering offering to send troops to help train Paksitani soldiers, but the details haven't been decided, nor have the Pakistanis explicitly laid out what American influence they would accept. Part of the antipathy in the northwest, toward the government of President Pervez Musharraf, comes from the perception that he is being backed by the United States.

Dara Adam Khel has always been full of criminals and miscreants, but until Friday, the frontier corps had never had to battle militants inside the town, which has one of the oldest gun cultures in the world. Families have been making and selling firearms for generations, including knockoffs of the sturdy, and always popular, Kalashnikov.

But residents say they have begun to stockpile even more weapons than normal, because they believe they will have to fight insurgents who are moving closer and closer into their neighborhoods.

"People are really afraid to go to bazaars, going to places where there can be threats from the terrorists," said one politician in the area. "So, there is more segregation. You see less women on roads. You see more beards. You see more veils. And I can tell you, that the fear is creeping into our society. People are losing faith in the state. They are losing faith in the capacity of the state to protect them."