NEW YORK - Pakistans most ambitious military operation against militants in South Waziristan was featured prominently in American print and electronic media, which underscored its importance in the process aimed at putting an end to the insurgency in the country. In Washington, Obama administration officials were quoted as saying in Sundays New York Times that they were pleased Pakistan at least decided to go ahead with the offensive. Senior American military officials said they were closely monitoring the long-awaited offensive. But it was clear that the military faced a potent, heavily armed enemy that has been preparing for months, bringing in reinforcements from across Pakistans tribal region, and diverting Taliban fighters from Afghanistan, the NYT said. In South Waziristan, the Taliban loyal to the Mehsud tribe are relying on hardened Uzbek fighters, and despite the death of their leader, Baitullah Mehsud, the rest of the Taliban leadership appears largely intact. The guerrillas are practiced at hit-and-run tactics intended to keep the troops bottled up until the snow falls next month. Bunkers and tunnels have been under construction with the help of excavation machinery commandeered in the past several years from local contractors, the newspaper added. Most of the areas where the army is headed are 6,000 to 7,000 feet high. In previous operations against the Taliban in the same area - in 2004, in 2005 and again in early 2008 - the army settled for a truce. GEN KAYANI This time, under the leadership of its chief of staff, Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the army is better prepared. It also has been left little choice about whether to take on the operation given the onslaught of attacks by the Taliban and Al Qaeda against the Pakistani state. The United States was expected to provide additional surveillance, reconnaissance and eavesdropping equipment to the Pakistani military, and possibly increase non-combat Predator drone surveillance flights over the rugged mountainous battle area to help the Pakistani forces identify and single out Taliban strongholds. The preparations for the South Waziristan campaign had been thorough, but the effort is fraught with uncertainties, the newspaper said, quoting a former brigadier, Javaid Hussain. It is the fear of the unknown that is weighing very heavily on those involved in the planning, he said. The Washington Post said the military offensive could define the nations increasingly bloody domestic struggle against Islamist extremism. There has to be consensus in the face of what is clearly now a war, Sherry Rehman, former information minister was quoted as saying. We have to treat this as a battle for Pakistans survival. The offensive is a gamble. Pakistani forces earlier retreated after three far smaller incursions into South Waziristan, an essentially ungoverned terrain of ridges and peaks that is unfamiliar to most except the tribes that live there. It is a potential vortex for the Pakistani army, which has been trained to battle archenemy India on the plains of the Punjab province, not conduct alpine counterinsurgency operations, the newspaper commented. The operation is expected to last six to eight weeks, said Maj Gen Athar Abbas, the military spokesman. The stakes for both sides are enormous, Bruce Hoffman, a counterinsurgency expert at Georgetown University, was quoted as saying in The Post. The attacks of the past couple weeks demonstrate that the militants are really concerned and that will have increased the ardour of the Pakistani forces to succeed. But its also an indication of why they cant fail the threat is already manifest. American officials have said the US-led military efforts in neighbouring Afghanistan can work only if Pakistan, a US ally, eliminates militant havens from its border region. Experts were cited as saying that cornering the Pakistani Taliban could also help the United States better target its drone strikes in the tribal areas along the Afghan border. Although the Bush administration began the drone attacks, President Obama has authorised a sharp increase in the missile launches. US intelligence officials have said the CIA-directed attacks more than 40 this year have killed at least a dozen insurgent leaders. You need internal unity and a shared view on how to address this threat, said S Rifaat Hussain, Chairman Defence and Strategic Studies Department at Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad. We have to do it as much for our own reasons as we do because we are a strategic partner of the United States. The full-force battle with insurgents comes as the government, led by President Asif Ali Zardari, is struggling to quell a public and military backlash to conditions imposed by a US aid package, which demands that Pakistan do more to subdue the militants in its midst, The Post dispatch noted. The furore has strained the governments relations with the military, which in the past has been reluctant to use its troops to fight fellow Pakistanis in an anti-terrorism battle viewed by many in the country as an American endeavour. These divides are dangerous at a time when insurgents appear to be coalescing and focusing their efforts on the Pakistani state, the newspaper cited analysts as saying.