Ground forces moved out of their bases in three different direction towards territory dominated by fighters loyal to the warlord Hakimullah Mehsud and his predecessor, Baitullah Mehsud, the notorious Pakistani Taliban leader killed in a US missile attack and his successor Hakimullah Mehsud.
Troops advancing from Shakai ran into resistance in Sharwangi area, one of the first areas of Mehsud’s territory they reached, a local administration official said. He added that the Taliban were using “heavy weapons” against the army.
An army official confirmed that soldiers had already met resistance within hours of the start of the operation, which has been planned for months and follows weeks of air and artillery strikes.
A senior government official said that the government and party leaders gave the military full backing on Friday, vowing to weed out militants and restore the writ of the state.
The army has said about 28,000 soldiers are in place to take on an estimated 10,000 hard-core Taliban. About 500 commandos arrived in the region on Friday, security officials said.
The army has stepped up its air and artillery attacks in recent days to soften up the militants’ defences while civilians have been fleeing.
The militants have launched a series of brazen attacks in the past 12 days, striking at the United Nations, the army headquarters, police and the general public, killing more than 150 people and apparently trying to stave off the army assault.
The head of the army, General Ashfaq Kayani, briefed government and party leaders on Friday and they all agreed that the militants posed a serious threat to the sovereignty and integrity of the state.
“The national consensus is reaffirmed to establish and maintain the writ of the state to weed out these elements,” said a statement issued by the office of Yusuf Raza Gilani, the prime minister.
More than 80,000 civilians had fled from South Waziristan in anticipation of the offensive and the UN refugee agency said more people had left this week.
Earlier, a government official said authorities had imposed a curfew along roads in South Waziristan to protect forces moving towards militant strongholds.