Pakistani army claims Taliban's elimination in Swat valley imminent
They got em surrounded, I tells ya!
The Pakistani army has encircled the Taliban in a number of strongholds across the Swat valley, a senior army officer said yesterday as the UN launched a $543m appeal for 2 million people displaced by the conflict.
"The noose is very tight around them. They are taking casualties every day," said Major General Sajjid Ghani, who leads the fight in the northern half of the valley. "We are closing in on them and we will eliminate them."
To prove the point, the army flew reporters to a mountain peak with a commanding view over the valley it had captured two days earlier after a 12-hour battle. Ghani pointed out several recently captured villages including Matta, a former Taliban stronghold. But the general refused to estimate how long the operation would take, and the sound of explosions and machine gun fire in the near distance suggested more tough fighting lay ahead
To the west lay Piochar, a remote valley bordered by snow-peaked mountains that houses the Taliban headquarters and where Pakistan's top commando force, the Special Services Group, has been engaged in intense fighting for the past week. On the other side was Malam Jabba, Pakistan's only commercial ski resort, which was wrecked by militants last year and remains under their control. And due south, about five miles down the meandering Swat valley, lies Mingora, the commercial capital of the valley.
There, civilians are hunkered inside their homes, surviving on dwindling supplies of food and fuel. Despite intense air attacks, the Taliban remain in control, with fighters holed up in schools and government offices, apparently preparing for a bloody ground offensive.
More than 1.7 million residents have registered for help in neighbouring districts, while at least 300,000 are unregistered. "The scale of this displacement is extraordinary," said UN official Martin Mogwanja, launching the $543m (£345m) appeal in Islamabad. Ghani said several areas, including the former Taliban stronghold of Matta, would soon be safe enough for people to return home. In northern Swat, he said, villagers were forming militias to oppose the Taliban spreading.
But even in areas under army control, the peace appears fragile. Although officers said it was safe for residents to return to Khwazakhela, a few kilometres from the captured mountain, they refused to allow journalists to wander the streets.
Instead they produced a 16-year-old youth who escaped Taliban captivity and three foreign prisoners two Uzbeks and an Afghan for interview inside their camp. They also showed images of Taliban leaders, including the reclusive cleric Maulana Fazlullah and a commander known as Ibne Amin, whom Ghani termed the "monstrous murderer of Matta".
The army needs to maintain fragile public support while convincing western allies it is serious about routing the Taliban after two failed previous attempts. Since operations started in Swat in November 2007, the army has killed 1,014 militants and lost 92 soldiers and officers.
Posted by: tu3031 2009-05-22