Waliur Rehman in Shaktoi. (AP)
Shaktoi (Pakistan), Dec. 23 (AP): A top Pakistani Taliban commander says he has sent thousands of fighters to Afghanistan to counter the influx of new American troops.
The rebel claim comes as a Pakistani army offensive is believed to have pushed many of the militants to flee their main redoubt.
Waliur Rehman told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview on Monday night that the Pakistani Taliban remain committed to battling the army in South Waziristan tribal region, but that they are essentially waging a guerrilla war.
Rehman is a deputy to Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud.
Since (President Barack) Obama is also sending additional forces to Afghanistan, we sent thousands of our men there to fight Nato and American forces, Rehman said. The Afghan Taliban needed our help at this stage, and we are helping them.
Colonel Wayne Shanks, a US military spokesman in Afghanistan, called Rehmans comments rhetoric that were not to be believed. We have not noticed any significant movement of insurgents in the border area, he said. Either stance is nearly impossible to independently verify.
Access to the tribal belt, especially conflict zones, is severely restricted. Pakistani army spokesmen could not immediately be reached for comment.
Rehman spoke in a large mud-brick compound in the Shaktoi area of South Waziristan. He looked relaxed as he sat on a carpet surrounded by seven rifle-toting guards and Azam Tariq, a Taliban spokesman.
It was apparently the first time either he or Hakimullah Mehsud had given an interview to a journalist since the Pakistani military launched the ground offensive on October 17.
To meet Rehman, the AP reporter travelled to the North Waziristan town of Mir Ali and from there was taken by Taliban militants on a six-hour ride to South Waziristan in a vehicle with tinted windows. The army sent some 30,000 troops to battle as many as 10,000 militants in South Waziristan, including hundreds of Uzbek fighters.