Taliban 'fled' Pakistani offensive 'before it began'

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Media captionMaj Gen Khan admitted militant leaders had been able to flee the area

A Pakistani army commander in the tribal region of North Waziristan has said that senior Taliban militants managed to flee the area before the start of an offensive in mid-June.

It is the first time the army has admitted that militant leaders escaped, the BBC's Shahzeb Jillani says.

The aim of the offensive is to rid the region of the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

On Thursday at least six suspected militants were killed in a US drone strike in North Waziristan.

Three weeks into an army offensive in the region, the military say that about 400 suspected militants have been killed - mostly by air strikes carried out by helicopter gunships.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The army launched its offensive in North Waziristan in June after much delay
Image copyright AFP
Image caption The government says that its is determined to rid North Waziristan of militancy once and for all
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Pakistan has carried out intensive airstrikes in the North Waziristan region in recent weeks

The figures cannot be independently verified.

Major-General Zafarullah Khan admitted that the senior militant senior leadership remains at large and that some saw the operation coming.

"It will be wrong on my part to say that some of them did not escape," he said.

"They could smell the operation was about to begin. The talks failed, the build-up for the operation had already begun and they could see that, they could sense and smell and therefore the leadership was not here. The leadership tried to abandon the place."

One Pakistani Taliban commander, Gilaman Mehsood, said in a telephone interview with the AP news agency from an undisclosed location that the military's casualty figures were incorrect and that most Pakistani Taliban fighters have taken sanctuary in border areas of Afghanistan.

Our correspondent says that some in Pakistan allege that militants with close ties to elements in the army were given ample warning, and even safe passage, to get out before the operation began.

But it is an allegation that the military strongly denies.

The operation against the Pakistani Taliban and other militants in the region has long been a demand of the US, which says that its troops in Afghanistan are being attacked by militants based in the region.

Unable to deploy troops in the area, America has instead relied on CIA drone strikes in North Waziristan.

The most recent was in the border town of Datta Khel, thought to be on the escape route for militants fleeing the army's offensive.

It was the third drone strike since they renewed their attacks, the first of which took place on 12 June.

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