DAMADOLA, Pakistan, March 3 (UPI) -- Pakistani military forces raised the national flag over a former militant stronghold once believed to be a hideout for al-Qaida No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Pakistani Maj. Gen. Tariq Khan, the commander of the Frontier Corps., called the operation in Damadola a strategic defeat for Taliban and al-Qaida forces, Pakistani newspaper The Nation reports.
"Damadola used to be nerve center of terrorism because of its strategic importance linked to Afghanistan, Chitral and Swat-Malakand region," he said.
Military officials said Pakistani forces had killed thousands of militants since operations began in the volatile tribal region in August 2008.
The Pakistani commander said his forces were able to raise the Pakistani flag over the city for the first time since independence in 1947.
A missile strike from a U.S. drone in 2006 targeted Zawahiri in the region, though the militant leader escaped with his life.
Khan said military teams destroyed a series of Taliban and al-Qaida sites dug into the mountains, killing as many 75 fighters in the process.
"There were Egyptians, Uzbeks, Chechens and Afghans killed in the operation," he said. "There were 156 caves designed as a defensive complex."
Khan said his forces cleared the area all the way to the Afghan border. His fighters had cleared the area in late February, showing the area to local reporters this week.