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Military offensive pushes Taliban back to Mingora

Video by Stephan KLOSS

Text by Marc LELLIEVRE , Matthieu MABIN

Latest update : 2009-05-09

Taliban militants are retreating north to the Swat valley's main city, Mingora, in the wake of a military offensive, local observers have told Mathieu Mabin, France 24's correspondent in Islamabad.

Taliban forces appear to be retreating from their positions in the Swat valley after an intensified military operation was launched against them, local observers told France 24 correspondent Mathieu Mabin. They are heading north, towards the city of Mingora.

They appear to have been pushed out by an intensified land offensive launched against them by Pakistani forces. Local witnesses report seeing small, disorganized Taliban groups fleeing, weakened by a night of intense combat.

Local NGOs, which for now have not been able to access combat zones, are worried about a Taliban influx to Mingora. The city is currently sheltering the majority of people displaced from the Swat valley, who will once again find themselves under the line of fire if Taliban fighters mingle with them.

"Eliminate the militants and terrorists"

Earlier Friday, Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani ordered soldiers leading the anti-Taliban offensive in the Swat valley to “eliminate the militants and terrorists”, terminating the peace deal reached with Taliban leaders last February. Authorities also imposed a long-term curfew on part of the territory to allow troops to deploy.

“To restore the honour and dignity of our nation, and to protect our people, armed forces are called on to eliminate the militants and terrorists,” the prime minister said in a televised speech on Thursday, blaming Taliban violence for breaking the peace deal.

His address came a day after President Asif Ali Zardari met in Washington with President Barack Obama of the United States and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan for talks on the conflict-ridden region.

Friday is the third day of the Pakistani military operations in the Swat valley.

Pakistani aircraft bombed Taliban positions in Swat on Friday. Helicopter gunships, fighters and troops were all involved in operations in Swat, and up to 12 militants were killed after as many as 55 were killed on Thursday, Major Nasir Khan, a military spokesman in Swat, told Reuters by telephone. Taliban fighters, however, continued targeting local police forces, besieging a police station in Matta, in southern Swat.

Fears of a humanitarian crisis

Civilians were also hit hard by the conflict: 35 people have been reported killed in the crossfire. The army has not confirmed civilian losses but has recognized there had been “collateral damage” to the fighting.

Swat valley residents continued to flee the region on Thursday, making the most of the temporary lifting of the 6 pm curfew.

NGOs now fear a wide scale humanitarian crisis. The International Committee of the Red Cross indicated in a press release that it is getting ready to supply up to 120,000 displaced persons with food and first aid.

Date created : 2009-05-08