Pakistan’s army, air force chiefs visit Swat (With image)

June 8th, 2009 - 6:59 pm ICT by IANS  

Taliban Islamabad, June 8 (IANS) Pakistan’s army and air force chiefs Monday visited Mingora, the largest town in Swat in the restive northwest that has just been cleared of the Taliban, even as the military operations against the militants entered their 44th day.
That the town has been completely cleared of the Taliban was evident from a photograph the military released, showing Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Air Chief Marshal Rao Qamar Suleman being briefed in the open on a street with minimal security in evidence.

Kayani and Suleman “met field commanders and held informal discussion with them on operational matters. They were also briefed in detail by the general officer commanding on the current operations and the future consolidation/hold strategy”, an Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) statement said.

Civilian officials also briefed the two officers on the plans being evolved for the area once normalcy returns.

Kayani “directed the general officer commanding to focus on the return of the IDPs (internally displaced persons) in peace and security and prepare a contingency plan for this crucial part of post-operational stage, the statement said.

Later, Kayani and Suleman “met with troops and freely exchanged views with them. They appreciated their high morale”, the statement said.

Kayani thanked Suleman “for effective air support during all phases of the operation”, the statement added.

On his part, the air chief announced the establishment of a water purification plant in Mingora.

The Pakistani military had gone into action April 26 after the Taliban reneged on a controversial peace deal with the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) 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 and the father-in-law of Swat Taliban commander Maulana Fazlullah, and later spread to Buner and Swat.

The military says a little over 1,300 Taliban have been killed in the fighting while 105 security personnel have lost their lives.

When the operations began, the military estimated it was up against some 4,000-5,000 heavily armed militants. It now says about half of these have fled after shaving their beards and intermingling with the millions of refugees who have streamed out of the area.

The security forces’ action has triggered one the largest and quickest exoduses in recent time, with the UN saying that some 3 million refugees have been forced to flee.

The UN estimates that some $543 million would be required for the relief and rehabilitation of the refugees.

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