Pakistan Army Claims Control of Main Town in Swat Valley
The Taliban have fled the Pakistani army’s advance on the main town in the Swat Valley, delivering the military a strategic prize in its offensive against militants in the country’s northwest, commanders said Saturday.
Taliban fighters had dug themselves into bunkers built into hotels and government buildings in Mingora, and initially offered stiff resistance as troops first closed roads leading to the town then began moving in earlier this week, army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said.
Aid was being distributed to some of the estimated 20,000 who were trapped in Mingora, and water and gas supplies were being restored. But Abbas said it would be at least two weeks before power is switched back on, and refugees were not yet being encouraged to start returning to their homes.
About 3 million people have fled the fighting in Swat, and the exodus has raised fears of a humanitarian crisis. >>>
Imran Khan, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Islamabad, said: “Our producer has been the only international news journalist to get access to the town of Mindora, and what he saw was consistent with what the military is saying.
“There was a fierce fight to take control of the town. The army had to clear landmines and IEDs [improvised explosive devices] and a huge cache of weapons within the town.
“So they’re very keen to tell the media about their gains.
“Although this is a key victory, there are still things that the army needs to do.
“Mullah Fazlullah, for example, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, is on the loose and is a symbol for Taliban resistance, so there is a lot of work that needs to be done.”
The majority of Mingora’s 300,000 residents fled before the military moved into the city, but the onset of urban warfare had rasied fears of civilian casualties.
People who remained in the city during the fighting had reported that there was no electricity and food and water were scarce.
Abbas said that doctors had been sent to Mingora to reopen the hospital and work had begun on restoring electricity supplies, but it would be at least two weeks before the system was running properly again.
‘Symbols of resistance’
Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan, reporting from Islamabad, said the Taliban could see the bounties as a success.
“What analysts are telling us is that by giving this kind of reward, what you’re doing is upping the value of people like Fazlullah and turning them into totems, symbols of resistance.
“You have to question whether anybody is actually going to turn Fazlullah in for that kind of money.
“It’s a very poor area. Anyone with access to that cash will immediately be suspected of spying and the Taliban has killed anyone they suspect of that in the valley before.”
About 2.4 million people have fled the fighting. There are no figures of civilian casualties, but some of the displaced have told of innocent relatives being killed.
Asif Ali Zardari, the Pakistani president, visited a camp for displaced families on Friday, saying they would soon be able to return home.
“The day is not far off when you will return in a better atmosphere than that which forced you to abandon your homes,” >>>
- Thousands Flee Fighting in Northwestern Pakistan (10 May 09)
- Pakistan ‘To Eliminate Militants’; Red Cross Warns of Refugee ‘Crisis’ (7 May 09)