Pakistani forces have taken control of a warren of caves that served until recently as the nerve center of the Taliban and Al Qaeda and sheltered Ayman al-Zawahiri, the second-in-command to Usama bin Laden.
“It was the main hub of militancy where Al Qaeda operatives had moved freely,” Major-General Tariq Khan, the Pakistan regional commander, said as he gave journalists a tour of Damadola yesterday.
The village, nestling among snow-capped peaks in the Bajaur region along the Afghan border, has been fought over for 16 months. It is the first time that the Pakistani Army has set foot in the village, which had long been dominated by the insurgents operating on the both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
“Al Qaeda was there. They had occupied the ridges. There were 156 caves designed as a defensive complex,” said General Khan, head of the Frontier Corps responsible for Pakistan’s counter-insurgency campaign in the region. He said that his forces had killed 75 foreign and local militants and cleared a zone up to the Afghan border, and that the campaign against the insurgents was in its final stage.
The army began operations in Bajaur in August 2008 and claimed victory in February last year, only for the insurgents to seep back when the Government’s focus switched to Pakistani Taliban fighters in the Swat Valley and South Waziristan.