Swat's main town "fully under control" - Pakistan army

ISLAMABAD Sun May 31, 2009 9:31am IST

A Pakistani soldier poses on the top of Baine Baba Ziarat mountain in Swat district, during a trip organized by the army, May 22, 2009. REUTERS/Mian Khursheed

A Pakistani soldier poses on the top of Baine Baba Ziarat mountain in Swat district, during a trip organized by the army, May 22, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Mian Khursheed

Related Topics

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistani forces have regained full control of Mingora, a week after re-entering the main town in the Swat valley to dislodge thousands of Taliban fighters, the military said on Saturday.

Recapturing Mingora, 130 km northwest of Islamabad, would raise the prospect that some of more than 2 million people who have fled the conflict zone could soon begin to go home, alleviating a humanitarian crisis.

"It's very good that Mingora city has come under the full control of the security forces," military spokesman Major-General Athar Abbas told a news conference.

The United States and other Western allies have been heartened by the army's show of resolve. There had been fears for the security of Pakistan's nuclear weapons if the Taliban threat had been allowed to spread any closer to the capital.

Around 300,000 people lived in Mingora until the Taliban occupied the town in early May when the army first launched an offensive in Swat, an alpine valley in the northwest.

The security forces have secured an area of up to 70 km north of Mingora, including the town of Bahrain, Abbas said, though before the news conference he told Reuters there were still pockets of resistance on the outskirts of Mingora.

Abbas said medical teams and food supplies had arrived in Mingora, which had been cut off since the start of the month.

Gas supplies were restored, but the electricity grid needed repair, and the spokesman said it would take at least two weeks to restore amenities.

MASS EXODUS

Abbas said 1,217 militants had been killed since the fighting began in late April, while 81 soldiers had been killed, and 250 wounded.

There are no independent casualty estimates available.

The mass exodus from Swat and the neighbouring regions of Lower Dir and Buner, where fighting had broken out in mid-April, prompted United Nations warnings of a long-term humanitarian crisis.

The U.N. has pleaded for international support for a $543 million fund to help Pakistan cope.

Almost 90 percent of the displaced people have been offered shelter by families in neighbouring peaceful areas, while the rest have headed for the camps that have sprung up around towns like Mardan and Swabi.

There are fears of disease breaking out as summer temperatures soar on the plains below the northwestern mountains.

The army initially estimated the militants had around 5,000 men in Swat, but later said there were only up to 2,000 hardcore fighters. Some 15,000 troops, backed by artillery and air power, were taking part in the offensive, according to the military.

The government first ordered the army into action after Taliban fighters moved south from their Swat stronghold into Buner, a valley just 100 km from Islamabad.

Islamist militants have carried out a series of bomb and gun attacks in Pakistani cities during the last few days, in a bid to take the heat off their comrades retreating in Swat.

The military had sealed most routes into Swat, cutting supply lines and reinforcements for the militants, who have begun fleeing north over the mountains into Kalam valley, where troops were being deployed to meet them.

There are expectations the army will turn its focus on the South Waziristan tribal region, bordering Afghanistan, once Swat has been pacified.

Tension is rising in Waziristan, where the army has bottled up the forces of Pakistan Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, and some families have begun streaming out of the area.

On Saturday, soldiers killed three militants after a military convoy came under attack, while earlier in the week helicopter gunships attacked militant targets.

(Additional reporting by Zeeshan Haider and Hafiz Wazir)

FILED UNDER:
  • Most Popular
  • Most Shared

Reforms Plan

REUTERS SHOWCASE

Border Tensions

Border Tensions

India names Ajit Doval as special envoy for China border talks.  Full Article 

Easing Congestion

Easing Congestion

India targets private cash to build railways to its ports.  Full Article 

First Casualty

First Casualty

Jindal Steel shelves $10 bln project after coal setback.  Full Article 

Global Trade Dispute

Global Dispute

U.S. seeks to step up India trade talks after WTO deal.  Full Article 

Budget Airline

Budget Airline

SpiceJet says in early talks with investors for fresh capital.  Full Article 

Iran Talks

Iran Talks

Iran nuclear talks extended 7 months after failing to meet deadline.  Full Article 

Obama Aide Quits

Obama Aide Quits

Hagel resigns as U.S. defence secretary, official says.  Full Article 

Clarke In

Clarke In

Clarke in first test team, but must prove fitness.  Full Article 

Glory Days

Glory Days

Hamilton leaves the partying for later.  Full Article 

Reuters India Mobile

Reuters India Mobile

Get the latest news on the go. Visit Reuters India on your mobile device  Full Coverage