Pakistan army 'regains' Swat city

Taliban pushed out of Mingora after several days of fighting, military says.

     About 15,000 troops are battling Taliban
    fighters in the country's northwest [EPA]

    'Key victory'

    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.

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    "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.

    'Much more fight'

    About 15,000 troops have been fighting the Taliban in the Swat, Lower Dir and Buner districts of North West Frontier Province (NWFP) for a month in an attempt to wrest the area from their control.

    The military has said that more than 1,200 fighters and 80 soldiers have died in the offensive, but the figures are impossible to confirm as access to the region is limited.

    Abbas said that the battle for the Swat valley was still far from over.

    "We're only talking about Mingora. Much more fight in Swat is left," he said.

    Aamir Ghauri, a Pakistan analyst told Al Jazeera: "We have to wait and see how long this success will last because it is just one city … and there is no evidence to corroborate it [what the military is saying]. Nothing has been shown, even in the Pakistani media.

    "Whether the Pakistan army is winning or not, they [the Taliban] are also winning, there are huge bomb blasts in urban centers … we cannot say this war is being won so easily."

    Pakistani security forces dropped leaflets on Charbagh town on Saturday, advising residents to leave the area before a possible military operation was launched, the AFP news agency reported.

    "There are intelligence reports about the presence of a number of important Taliban commanders in the area," a security official said.

    Pakistan has raised its cash reward for the capture of Maulana Fazlullah, a Taliban leader in the Swat valley, to 50 million rupees ($615,000).

    The government had earlier announced a reward of $62,000 for anyone who helped track down Fazlullah.

    The interior ministry also published the names and photographs of several Taliban fighters, offering rewards for their capture, dead or alive.

    Fazlullah is accused of leading Taliban fighters in a campaign of violence that has seen opponents beheaded, scores of schools burned and government forces attacked.

    'Symbols of resistance'

    Al Jazeera's Imran Khan, reporting from Islamabad, said the Taliban could see the bounties as a success.

    Pakistan has offered rewards for the capture of several Taliban fighters
    "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,"

    The United Nations has called for more support to help Pakistan cope with the humanitarian crisis.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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