ISLAMABAD: Troops secured footholds yesterday in a Pakistani valley overrun by the Taliban, killing 11 enemy fighters and discovering five headless corpses near the region’s main town, the army said. Pakistan fighter jets and attack helicopters also pounded Taliban targets in the northwest yesterday as President Asif Ali Zardari called for global help to avert a humanitarian catastrophe.
Hundreds of thousands of civilians have escaped the punishing offensive in the Swat Valley, fleeing Taleban fighters who have terrorized the population in a bloody campaign. Elsewhere in the turbulent northwest, police said dozens of assailants stormed a transport depot handling supplies for NATO troops in neighboring Afghanistan and torched eight trucks before escaping.
Rising violence, including a string of attacks on NATO and US supplies, have fed concern that more of Pakistan’s border region is slipping from government control and into the hands of the Taleban and Al-Qaeda.
The army claims to have killed more than 750 militants since the operation began. But the fighting has also driven some 800,000 people from their homes, creating a humanitarian emergency that could undercut support for the pro-Western government. The army said yesterday that commandos airlifted into the valley the day before had established a “firm hold” in the remote Peochar area, the rear base of Swat Taleban leader Maulana Fazlullah.
Troops were also consolidating their positions near a strategic bridge and a shrine in the valley, an army statement said. Various clashes in the previous 24 hours left four soldiers and 11 militants dead, it said. The five headless bodies were found near the valley’s main town, Mingora, the army said, giving no details of the victims’ identities. Residents have said the Taliban have repeatedly decapitated opponents and dumped their bodies in Mingora.
The army has yet to start operations in Mingora, where witnesses say Taliban insurgents are in control and preparing for what could be bloody door-to-door fighting. The army says it is proceeding carefully, wary that civilian casualties and massive disruption could sap public support for a sustained operation to undo recent Taliban gains.
Courtesy : Arab News