Taliban shaving beards to flee Swat: Pakistani military (Intro Night Lead)

May 16th, 2009 - 1:32 am ICT by IANS  

Taliban Islamabad, May 15 (IANS) Taliban fighters are shaving their beards to mingle with the civilians fleeing the security forces’ operations in Swat in Pakistan’s troubled northwest, the military said Friday, on a day when the country’s army chief briefed parliament on the offensive.
“We request the civil population of Swat to come forward and help the security forces in identifying the Taliban terrorists. We have confirmed reports that these Taliban terrorists, after shaving off their beards and cutting their hair, are fleeing from the area,” an Inter-Service Public Relations (ISPR) statement said.

“We request the people of Swat to identify them by pointing out at a check post where security forces are present. You may dial the cell number 0333-5239938 which we are publicizing through media, or send an SMS which may help in the arrest of these Taliban Terrorists,” the statement added.

During his in-camera briefing to a joint session of parliament, amry chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani said the security forces were ensuring that collateral damage is minimised in their operations in Swat and two other districts of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP).

The operations, which began April 26, have so far claimed the lives of close to 1,000 Taliban fighters.

Kayani had visited Swat Thursday to study the conduct of the operations.

On Wednesday, the army chief had directed the military to ensure minimum collateral damage during the operations, even at risk to their own lives, and focus on precision strikes.

In his opening remarks at the in-camera session, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani called for a political solution to restore peace in Swat and six other districts of the NWFP that are collectively known as the Malakand division after the military operaations conclude.

“The situation is not normal, militants have threatened the very fabric of our society, by trying to impose their will through coercive measures,” Gilani said.

“This in-camera meeting has been organized to take the political leadership of the country into confidence on the real situation and answer their questions on the necessity of army action in Swat and the issue of IDPs (internally displaced persons),” Gilani said.

According to Gilani, the military had been tasked to eliminate the Taliban and was proceeding with the task with full commitment and a high degree of professionalism.

The military Friday reported more “success” in its operations in Swat, saying 55 militants had been killed in the past 24 hours.

“An important terrorist commander, Dawa Noor, has also been apprehended by security forces,” a statement from Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said.

“Dawa Noor is a known terrorist Taliban commander and was grossly involved in terrorist activities in Sultanwas and Daggar,” the statement said.

“Before the security forces launched an operation in Buner, Dawa Noor was instigating the civil population of the area forces on FM radio and with the help of a loudspeaker on a jeep. He played a crucial role in facilitating the taking over of Buner by Taliban terrorists,” the statement added.

The Pakistani Army went into action against the Taliban April 26 after they violated a controversial peace accord with the NWFP government and instead moved south from their Swat headquarters and occupied Buner district that is just 100 km from Islamabad.

The operations began in Lower Dir to the west of Swat and which is the home district of Taliban-backed radical cleric Sufi Mohammad, who had brokered the peace accord.

The operations subsequently spread to Buner and Swat.

The security forces achieved major success Wednesday when heliborne troops, after a day-long battle, captured Peochar, the headquarters of Swat Taliban commander Maulana Fazlullah, who is also Sufi Mohammad’s son-in-law.

On Friday, Pakistani Defence Minister Ahmad Mukhtar was quoted as saying that no time frame had been laid down for the military operations.

“The army is clearing the areas gradually and no time frame could be given in this regard,” Mukhtar told the APP news agency.

According to Mukhtar, it was up to the army to evolve the strategy for the operations in the NWFP and he would not like to comment on this.

Questioned about reports of collateral damage due to the army operation, he said the army was making the utmost efforts to avoid this.

Heavy artillery, Mukhtar pointed out, was only being used to pound militants hideouts.

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