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Central & South Asia
Pakistan army closes in on key town
Number of displaced soars as military prepares to enter Taliban-held town of Mingora.
Last Modified: 17 May 2009 10:06 GMT

At least 15,000 soldiers are reported to be battling 5,000 Taliban fighters in the Swat valley [AFP]

Pakistani government forces have encircled a key town in the Swat valley as the 21-day offensive against the Taliban in the region continued, the military said.

The push towards Mingora on Saturday came a day after the military lifted a curfew on the town, allowing thousands of residents to join more than one million people who had already fled their homes.

"The security forces are closing in from different directions and have been able to inflict many more casualties," Major-General Athar Abbas, a military spokesman, said on Friday.

"Security forces are getting close to Mingora city. The aim is to isolate and block the movement of fleeing terrorists."

Urban warfare

Al Jazeera's Imran Khan, reporting from Peshawar, said that were fighting to begin inside the town of Mingora it was likely to be tough for the military. 

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"The Taliban say they are firmly in control of Mingora and they have a number of fighters who are willing to die for their cause," he said.

"Unless the air superiority of the Pakistani military has put the Taliban fighters on the run, they will end up fighting house-to-house and street-to street. 

"The Taliban know that area very well, many of them were born or brought up within the town  of Mingora and will know exactly what alleyways to run into, where to place a snipe and they will take pot shots at the Pakistani army."

There were also reports of helicopter gunships and fighter jets being used against suspected Taliban hideouts in the Peochar, Shamozai and Khwaza Khela areas of  North West Frontier Province (NWFP) on Saturday.

At least 47 suspected fighters had been killed in raids by Pakistani forces across the NWFP in the last 24 hours, the military said.

At least 15,000 government troops are reported to be battling about 5,000 Taliban fighters in Swat valley.

Peshawar blasts

As the offensive continued in Swat valley, a suspected car bomb attack in Peshawar, the NWFP's main city, killed at least 11 people and wounded about 30 others.

Four children and two women were among the victims, Sifwat Ghayyur, Peshawar's police chief, said.

Two bomb blasts hit Peshawar, the capital of North West Frontier Province [EPA]
Eight of the injured were handicapped children on a bus seriously damaged in the blast outside an internet cafe.

Later, a second explosion injured at least four people in a bazaar, police said.

The UN refugee agency said on Saturday that "massive support" was needed for the at least 1.17 million people who have fled their homes in the NWFP because of the fighting, many of them heading to 23 camps set up across the province.

"We have registered since May 2, 1,171,000 displaced persons," Antonio Guterres, UN high commissioner for refugees, said.

"Each person has suffered a lot having to abandon their community, sometimes their families, their houses, property, coming with nothing."

Many of those displaced as a result of the army offensive against the Taliban have fiercely criticised the Pakistan government.

"The government should give us peace. We have no need for tents, for food or for money. Give us peace and give us our homes," Hayat Ullah, a grandfather who fled Mingora with his wife, daughters and children, said.

"We didn't come here because of the Taliban, we came here after the shelling and bombardment of the government," Speaking from a government-run Jalala camp in Mardan, a town in NWFP, he said.

The military says that it has killed more than 940 suspected Taliban fighters since April 26 in the NWFP's districts of Lower Dir, Swat and Buner.

But there is no independent confirmation of the figures and no word on civilian casualties.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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