Pakistan says Swat cleared of Taliban

June 24th, 2009 - 8:39 pm ICT by IANS  

Taliban Islamabad, June 24 (IANS) The Pakistan government Wednesday claimed that the entire Malakand division, including Swat, in the country’s restive northwest had been cleared of the Taliban, but this seemed to be at variance with the military that indicated that its operations against the militants were far from over.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik told the National Assembly that Malakand and Swat in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) had been cleared of the Taliban and that 1,592 militants had been killed so far.

The restoration of infrastructure in the Malakand division was also being fast tracked, Malik added.

Malik’s figure of Taliban casualties were, however, at variance with those of the military’s, whose operations in Swat and two other districts of the NWFP entered their 59th day Wednesday.

Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) had released the figure of 1,592 Monday and with seven more militants killed in the 24 hours to Wednesday afternoon, the figure has gone up to 1,599.

Also on Monday, ISPR had said the operations were in their “final phase”, an assertion that was repeated Tuesday but which did not find a mention Wednesday - a clear indication that these would take time.

“During the last 24 hours (to Wednesday afternoon), seven terrorists were killed and seven were apprehended,” an ISPR statement Wednesday said.

During this period, six soldiers, including two officers, were killed and three soldiers were injured, the statement added.

Detailing the course of the operations, the statement said the security forces consolidated their positions in the Kabbal, Akhun Kalle, Dadhrah, Khazna and Gardi areas of Swat.

“On a tip off, security forces conducted a clearance operation against a suspected compound at Sakhra. One terrorist was killed and three stolen vehicles were recovered along with arms and ammunition,” the ISPR statement said.

The security forces also carried out search and sweep operations at the Charbagh-Mangaltan areas, during the course of which two majors and four soldiers were killed and three soldiers were injured.

The operations began April 26 after the Taliban reneged on a controversial peace deal with the NWFP government and instead moved south from their Swat headquarters and occupied Buner, which is just 100 km from Islamabad.

The operations had begun in Lower Dir, the home district of Taliban-backed radical cleric Sufi Mohammad, who had brokered the peace deal and who is the father-in-law of Swat Taliban commander Maulana Fazlullah. They later spread to Buner and Swat - and to South Waziristan earlier this month.

South Waziristan is the headquarters of Baitullah Mehsud, who heads the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the umbrella group of various Taliban groups operating in the country.

Mehsud is also accused of having a hand in the Dec 27, 2007, gun and bomb attack that killed former prime minister Benazir Bhutto as she left a political rally in the garrison town of Rawalpindi adjacent to Islamabad.

The military operations have displaced 3.8 million civilians from the three districts of NWFP, a press release issued by the provincial government says.

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