Until the Pakistani Army swept into this small, hill-flocked valley on Nov. 3, Sararogha had served as the South Waziristan headquarters of the powerful terrorist group Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan -- known in English as the TTP. Despite the chaos since the death of its founder -- Baitullah Mehsud, killed by a U.S. drone strike on Aug. 5 -- the TTP had the area firmly in its grip, and made it a virtual black hole for government security and intelligence forces.
The TTP had seized the town in a surprise raid on a paramilitary fort on Jan. 25 last year. They instantly executed half of the two dozen Frontier Corps soldiers, a move that filled the roughly 8,000 inhabitants with fear and forced them into silence. The stones and debris still litter the ground of the fort -- the result of heavy artillery fire that the army used while entering the town. "It all started from here, the challenge to the state of Pakistan," Brig. Muhammed Shafiq, the commanding officer, told me during a recent visit. "Sararogha has turned into a symbol of the TTP terror in the region."
But this month, the Army overtook the town and its southern ridge -- Point 1345 -- which overlooks Sararogha and the road to the periphery of the valley. The fight for this point has been fierce and bloody, with one soldier losing one of his legs to gunfire from the TTP and al Qaeda militants. The soldier is currently under treatment at a military hospital in Rawalpindi, where the Pakistani Army is headquartered, and officials will not name him for security reasons. Officials claim they have killed more than 550 militants in the current campaign thus far, while suffering close to 100 casualties themselves.
Since access to the area -- dubbed the "terror den" by many Army officials -- is extremely limited and the military has choked all the arteries leading into it, independently verifying these claims is not possible. The entire civilian population has moved away, taking away potential sources of context. There are no precise counts of how many TTP and al Qaeda fighters there are in the region, though local journalists generally say 10,000 to 15,000. Regardless of the exact numbers, the most important consequence of the latest offensive is that the Army has wrested control over an area it had once lost.
Two things made this possible. First, squabbling between politically tainted Asif Zardari, the president, and Nawaz Sharif, the former two-time prime minister, following last February's elections resulted in uncertainty, inaction, and confusion in the war against militants. With power consolidated, the military has made swift, effective moves against the TTP and other forces.