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Pakistan launches al Qaeda sweep

Pakistani commando force troops prepare for battle in South Waziristan during a similar operation last October.
Pakistani commando force troops prepare for battle in South Waziristan during a similar operation last October.

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New U.S. push to find Osama bin Laden in Afghan border region
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September 11 attacks

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- Pakistan has launched a military operation against al Qaeda and Taliban forces in the country's tribal regions along the Afghan border, Pakistani army spokesman Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan said.

Government sources told CNN a day earlier Pakistani forces were ready to conduct a major operation in the Wana area, where al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar are believed to be hiding.

According to Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmad, no U.S. troops are involved, noting Pakistan will conduct any operations based on intelligence information.

Residents in the South Waziristan tribal region said they saw at least 14 helicopters flying over the area early in the morning, according to Reuters news agency.

Ahead of Tuesday's operation, Pakistani government sources said tribal leaders had turned over at least 32 wanted people to the Pakistani government, with at least 40 others still at large.

The operation comes hours after U.S. President George W. Bush pledged to continue to hunt down al Qaeda militants.

"We are on the hunt for al Qaeda," Bush told a meeting of U.S. governors at the White House.

"It requires all assets, intelligence assets and military assets, to chase them down and bring them to justice, and we're going pretty good -- better than pretty good."

Bin Laden hunt

Last week, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan said Pakistan's recent clampdown along the Afghan border could help crush the al Qaeda terrorist network.

Pakistani troops are destroying the homes of those who do not cooperate with them, Lt. Gen. David Barno told reporters at the Pentagon during a video news conference from Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.

Barno said the hunt for bin Laden remains a "very, very high priority" for U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

But he seemed to back off a previous statement that the coalition would capture bin Laden and Omar this year, saying "there are no certainties in the war-fighting business out here."

Changing tactics

Pakistani forces have been hunting down al Qaeda suspects.
Pakistani forces have been hunting down al Qaeda suspects.

U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan are planning a spring offensive against Taliban and al Qaeda fighters remaining in the country.

The Taliban ruled much of Afghanistan from the mid-1990s until a coalition of U.S. and allied forces drove them from power in November 2001. The Taliban had given haven to al Qaeda before the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

Bin Laden and Omar are believed to have taken refuge in the mountainous tribal areas of northwestern Pakistan.

U.S. and Pakistani forces are operating on each side of the border in hopes of producing "a hammer-and-anvil approach" in which Pakistan would drive al Qaeda fighters toward U.S. and Afghan forces across the frontier.

Barno said U.S. troops have shifted tactics in order to counter smaller-scale attacks by Taliban and other forces.

The attacks have targeted peacekeepers, aid workers and civilians "because they are essentially powerless to confront the coalition out here."

American units now will spend more time in the Afghan countryside and less in their bases, establishing ties with local leaders and the Afghan people.

"The units then ultimately get great depth of knowledge, understanding and much better intelligence access to the local people in those areas, by owning, as it were, those chunks of territory," Barno said.

"That's a fairly significant change in terms of our tactical approach out there on the ground."

U.S. troops and British, New Zealand and German forces have set up "provincial reconstruction teams" to provide security for aid workers, he added.

A pilot "regional development zone" has been set up in Kandahar, once the Taliban's base of support.

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