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Terrorism & Security

Pakistanis flee Swat Valley as military strikes Taliban

As Army bombs the area, militants are digging in and preparing for ground battle.

By David Montero / May 7, 2009

People from Buner and Mingora in Pakistan's Swat valley arrive at a camp for displaced people in Mardan on Wednesday. Pakistan's military has begun mortar and aerial bombing assaults on Taliban fighters after months of inaction.

Mohammad Sajjad/AP

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Pakistan's restive Swat Valley is set to become a war zone – again. The Taliban have been busy mining the main streets of the valley's main city, Mingora, taking over government buildings, and seizing police stations. Civilians, meanwhile, can't get out. The Taliban have blocked the roads with trees. Black-turbaned fighters are now poised with their fingers on the trigger, waiting for the Army to come back in.

That could happen any day. So far the Army has preferred to bomb the militants from above, using helicopters and artillery. But ground troops may become necessary as the Taliban dig in. And not just in Swat – after months of inaction, the Pakistani military has begun pounding Taliban enclaves in a 50-mile arc along the Northwest Frontier Province.

This is exactly the sort of violence that the government's peace deal with the Swat Taliban, signed in February, was supposed to avoid. Instead, it only emboldened the Taliban to seize larger swaths of land closer to Islamabad, the capital. As fighting threatens to ignite the region, Pakistan's president, now in Washington, is scrambling to convince the Obama administration that Pakistan can prevail.

As fighting heats up in districts of Swat, Dir, and Buner, the Pakistani government is expecting a staggering new wave of refugees, according to Dawn, one of Pakistan's leading English-language newspapers.

The government in North West Frontier Province has said up to half a million could flee the Taliban flashpoint district of Swat and local officials said Wednesday that more than 40,000 left the main town of Mingora in 24 hours....
'We can no longer reach the areas most affected by the fighting on account of the volatile situation,' Benno Kochner, who runs ICRC operations in NWFP from the provincial capital Peshawar, said in the statement.

Refugees are fleeing what is already shaping up to be a bloodbath, reports the Daily Times, a Lahore-based newspaper.

At least 69 Taliban were killed as the army pounded Taliban positions in Mingora and Buner and seized control of an emerald mine in Swat on Wednesday, in the first 'planned operation' since the collapse of a peace deal between the Taliban and the NWFP government, military sources said.
According to [the military], four troops were killed and six injured in the fighting. Five security officials were killed and four others injured in a remote-controlled bomb blast near Pull Chowki in Chakkadra area of Malakand, a private TV channel reported.
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