WANA, Pakistan – A Pakistan army helicopter dropped leaflets in a remote tribal region near the border with Afghanistan, urging tribesmen to help capture suspected Al Qaeda (search) fugitives, residents and officials said on Saturday.
The leaflets, in both Urdu and Pashto language, were dropped Friday in South Waziristan (search), the scene of a major military operation last month against Al Qaeda holdouts and tribal sympathizers that left more than 120 people dead.
"Tribesmen are great friends of the Pakistan army," read the leaflet. "These foreigners are misusing your hospitality. They are not your friends ... they are terrorists. You should help your army to flush them out."
The fact the leaflets were dropped by air demonstrated the security forces' reluctance to travel in the area.
Many locals resent the presence of the army in this semiautonomous region, where dozens of homes of people suspected of harboring foreign terrorists were demolished and other properties were damaged in the two-week military operation — Pakistan's largest since it became an ally in the U.S.-led war on terror in late 2001.
At least a dozen civilians were killed in the fighting, near the main South Waziristan town of Wana — about 190 miles southwest of Pakistan's capital, Islamabad — along with 63 foreign and local militants and at least 48 Pakistani troops and government officials.
Some 163 suspects were captured, but hundreds more militants escaped. An Uzbek militant leader, Tahir Yuldash, believed injured, was among those who escaped the military's net.
Uzbekistan has requested "detailed information" about Uzbeks captured during the operation, Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Masood Khan said Saturday, adding that Pakistan's government is considering the request and has yet to respond.
Pakistan has not specified the nationalities of the foreigners, saying they were under interrogation and in the process of being identified, but they are believed to include Uzbeks, Chechens and Arabs.
Uzbekistan — like Pakistan a U.S. ally in its war on terror — is reeling from bombings and attacks by suspected Islamic militants this week that killed at least 47 people.
A top Uzbek anti-terror official has told The Associated Press the militants were linked to the Wahhabi sect of Islam — a term authorities here have also used to refer to the IMU, a group allied with Al Qaeda that battled U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Government officials on Saturday were meeting with the tribal elders of the Yargul Khel and Zali Khel tribes, which have been accused of harboring foreign militants. Both tribes said they would not allow any foreigners to hide in their areas in the future, officials said.
However, Rahmatullah Wazir, a government official in Wana, threatened the "toughest action" against tribesmen if they did not expel foreign terrorists from their areas before a Thursday deadline.
"We have received assurances from tribal elders, but we will see how they act," he told The Associated Press. He gave no more details of what action the tribesmen would face.
After the end of the military operation on March 28, Pakistan withdrew its troops from a target area near Wana, but retained thousands of forces in South Waziristan, which a military spokesman said remain "combat ready."