Thousands Flee Fighting in Northwestern Pakistan
Taliban vow to ‘eliminate’ Pakistan’s top leadership as Zardari vows thousands more will die as civilians flee.
Pakistani authorities have allowed thousands of people to flee a northwestern region where government troops are battling Taliban militants.
Residents left the Swat Valley by car and on foot Sunday after authorities temporarily lifted a curfew. The curfew was reimposed by Sunday evening.
The U.N. refugee agency expects 500,000 people to flee fighting in the region, with many heading for displaced persons’ camps in Pakistan’s North West Frontier province.
Pakistani troops backed by aircraft launched a full-scale offensive against the Taliban on Thursday after militants took control of areas 100 kilometers from the capital, Islamabad. >>>
Pakistan aid camps struggle to help displaced
Many of those who have left the region are heading towards UN camps in Jalala and Sheikh Shehzad in Mardan district, as well as Yar Hussein in Swabi district. Sohail Rahman reports from one of the camps trying to help people displaced by the fighting. (2:27):
The Pakistani military reported today that it had killed around 200 combatants in the nation’s Swat Valley in the past 24 hours. The military has so far not commented on the extent of the civilian toll, but claimed the Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) was causing civilian casualties. Previous reports suggested that the military had caused significant civilian casualties as well. >>>
Pakistan’s military said on Saturday that a full-scale offensive in the northwest has put militants on the back foot following a pledge from President Asif Ali Zardari to eliminate the Taliban.
Warplanes pounded rebel hideouts in the Swat valley, an ex-ski resort where up to 15,000 security forces have been deployed under orders to crush extremists in an escalating conflict that has displaced hundreds of thousands.
“They are on the run,” the army said in a statement, without making clear exactly how much progress it had made in driving militants from their positions.
But the statement added that Taliban fighters were “trying to block the exodus of innocent civilians by preventing their departure through coercion, IEDs (improvised explosive devices), road blocks with trees and even (making them) hostages”.
Meanwhile a suspected US drone fired missiles at a compound used by militants in South Waziristan tribal district bordering Afghanistan, killing six militants and injuring 10 others, officials said.
The military said Friday an air and ground offensive to crush the Taliban in the northwest killed more than 140 militants. >>>
Even before a legislation on civilian aid to Pakistan was passed by the US Congress, the Obama administration has more than tripled its assistance to Islamabad for the years 2009 and 2010 in its budgetary proposals.
More than $2 billion would be flowing into Pakistan at a same time, state department told reporters on Saturday at a media briefing on state department’s international affair’s budget for the year 2010. >>>
Angered by Pakistan government’s decision to launch an all out war against them, the Taliban has vowed to “eliminate” country’s top leadership including President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and their close family members. (Watch)
“We thought that being a member of a religious family, Gilani will support our demand of implementing Sharia in the Malakand division but instead he has announced an all-out war against us, which has angered our commanders as well as fighters,” an unnamed Taliban commander told The News daily.
The militant commander, who spoke to the newspaper by phone, said after Gilani declared during an address to the nation on Thursday that the Taliban would be wiped out from the Swat Valley and adjoining areas, the militants had started planning to “eliminate the top leaders of the ruling alliance, including President, Prime Minister and their close family members and aides”.
The commander said Gilani’s hometown of Multan and tomb of former premier Benazir Bhutto might also be targeted by the militants.
“Besides, the personnel and installations of security forces, we have now also included civilian rulers in our hit list. We will definitely need some time to plan our actions but it is not impossible for us and we have all the means to implement our plan of attack anywhere in Pakistan,” he claimed.
The head of the U.S. Central Command says Taliban militants are a “true threat” to the existence of Pakistan. But Gen. David Petraeus says he is confident that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is safe from militants. >>>