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Sunday, May 24, 2009

Pakistani Troops Enter Taliban Stronghold

ISLAMABAD, May 23: Security forces entered Mingora, a key stronghold of the Taliban and the main city in Swat district, on Saturday and launched an offensive against militants after plugging escape routes and cutting off supply lines.

“Street fighting has begun in Mingora, which has been encircled from four sides and house-to-house search is under way to clear the city of miscreants,” military spokesman Maj-Gen Athar Abbas said at a press briefing.

Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira also attended the briefing. The ISPR chief said security forces had cleared a swathe from Circuit House to Makkan Pak, including the Continental Hotel. Troops had begun softening up Taliban positions in Nawan Kali with heavy bombardment ahead of an offensive to drive them out, he added.

The forces had also secured a bridge at Wanai that links Matta with Peochar valley, Maj-Gen Athar Abbas said.

Seventeen militants had been killed over the past 24 hours. Militant commander Khurshid alias Qasai was arrested in Mingora. Another militant commander, Usman Butcher, was killed in clashes in Matta. A soldier was injured.

Six militants were killed when security forces attacked caves at the Kamber bridge. A large haul of arms and ammunition were found in three caves. The caves were being used by militants for dumping arms and ammunition and for logistic support. The military spokesman said that terrorists were on the run in small groups.

“The operation has shattered the myth of terrorists’ might in Peochar valley and helped boost the confidence of local people in the armed forces.

“The locals have voluntarily surrendered their weapons they keep for personal protection to security forces and also assured the forces of their support,” Maj-Gen Abbas said.

In reply to a question about the threat of terrorists reaching camps in the guise of displaced persons, Maj-Gen Abbas said that a proposal to keep IDPs at one place was being considered. “We are working on it, but cannot give a deadline.”

He said that security forces were trying their best to avoid collateral damage. He said that an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 civilians (five to 10 per cent of the total population) were still trapped in Mingora. He said there were 4,000 to 5,000 militants in Swat and 1,095 of them had been killed. He, however, said new recruits and other criminal elements had dissociated themselves from the terrorists and there were 1,500 to 2,000 hardcore militants.

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