Pakistan expands fight in Swat’s main town

May 24th, 2009 - 7:49 pm ICT by IANS  

Taliban Islamabad, May 24 (DPA) Pakistani troops gained ground in Mingora, Swat valley’s main town, Sunday as they fought house to house in what the military called “the most important phase” of the anti-Taliban operationv in the country’s northwest, media reports said.
Infantry soldiers took control of several key intersections in the town after overnight gunfights with insurgents holed up in houses and government buildings, the private Aaj news channel reported.

Heavy casualties were inflicted on the militants, Aaj cited official sources as saying.

Security forces pushed into Mingora Saturday, sparking fierce street battles in the town where up to 20,000 residents are still believed to be pinned down in their homes.

The military said Saturday that capture of the town would be “painfully slow” as soldiers had been told to avoid collateral damage.

When the military announced a full-scale offensive in Swat May 8, it put the number of Taliban militants between 4,000 and 5,000.

But chief military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas told reporters Saturday that the security forces were fighting 2,000 hard core Taliban. He said a large number of criminals who had joined the militants had left the militia and escaped from the region.

More than 1,100 militants and over 60 soldiers have so far been reported killed in the offensive. The figure could not be confirmed independently.

Escalating violence in the north-west has also displaced around two million people since August 2008, with nearly 1.7 million fleeing the fighting in the last three weeks.

The UN Friday launched an appeal for an additional $454 million in aid to assist the uprooted people.

Separately, Pakistani attack aircraft pounded militant positions in the Orakzai tribal district near Afghanistan Sunday, killing at least eight Taliban fighters and wounding five more, the Urdu-language Geo News television channel reported.

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