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    PAKISTAN BEGINS MILITARY OPERATION ON AFGHAN BORDER

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    ISLAMABAD, February 24 (RIA Novosti correspondent Vladimir Shreter) - Pakistan announced the beginning of an anti-terrorist operation on its border with Afghanistan.

    State television reported that Pakistani Information Minister Rashid Ahmad said the purpose of the operation, which began on Tuesday morning, is to search for and arrest Taliban and Al Qaeda militants who are hiding in the South Waziristan autonomous region. This region is an administrative part of the Northwest Frontier Province of Pakistan whose population consists of Pashtoons. More than 3 million, and by some estimates, up to 5 million Afghan refugees are believed to be in the province. (This territory is called Pashtunistan in historical, mainly Afghan, sources and was separated from Afghanistan by the British at the end of the 19th century. After World War II, Pakistan claimed the area. The elders of the Pashtoon tribes retained full autonomy.)

    Until recently, Pakistani authorities provided information only about measures to intensify the guard of Pakistan's border with Afghanistan. However, according to the local news reports, an army brigade already combed mountain villages in Waziristan in preparation for the operation.

    Yesterday, Pakistani Minister of Foreign Affairs Mehmood Khursheed Kasuri told journalists in Islamabad that Osama bin Laden would not receive the amnesty that President Pervez Musharraf promised to militants who surrendered.

    From September 2001, after Pakistan joined an international coalition against terrorism, more than 500 militants and active Al Qaeda members, including several of its leaders, were arrested in Pakistan and turned over to the United States.

    The United States command already stated that it intended to catch Osama bin Laden in 2004.

    According to The Washington Post, a new Special Forces group, designated Task Force 121, has been assembled from Army Delta Force members, Navy SEALs, and is being transferred to Afghanistan. This elite unit captured Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

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