Pakistan closes in on Swat Valley victory over Taliban
Government officials say the month-long military offensive is within days of accomplishing its goal. Next up: a second offensive in South Waziristan.
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Pakistan's defense minister on Sunday predicted victory to be just days away in the government's month-long military offensive in the Swat Valley, a Taliban stronghold. Once that is accomplished, government officials said the military is likely to launch a second offensive in Waziristan, where Pakistani forces killed as many as 40 militants on Sunday.
Militant violence has been on the rise in Pakistan's tribal areas, raising concerns about the stability of a nuclear-armed nation that the US sees as vital to its war on terror. The region, located along Afghanistan's border, is home base for the Taliban's fight against Pakistan, as well as Afghan and US forces next door. South Waziristan alone is believed to host up to seven training camps for would-be suicide bombers, according to a detailed BBC map and accompanying briefing page.
On Sunday, Reuters reported that Taliban fighters attacked a paramilitary camp used by pro-government forces in the South Waziristan town of Jandola late on Saturday. Estimates of the number of casualties vary widely, and no figure has been independently confirmed.
"Militants came in force and attacked a paramilitary camp and fighting lasted for eight hours. At least 40 militants were killed while four soldiers died," said an intelligence official in the region who declined to be identified.
A military spokesman said the militants had been pushed back after a heavy exchange of fire. Up to 15 militants and three soldiers were killed, he said.
Government officials have said that a second offensive in Waziristan is likely after the Taliban has been defeated in Swat, the Reuters article added. That day may be fast approaching. The battle in South Waziristan comes one day after government forces retook Mingora, the largest town in the Swat Valley, a former resort area that has been taken over by the Taliban.
The town is far from the vacation spot it once was, reports the Associated Press. One day after the Taliban fled, residents emerged from hiding to find damaged buildings, empty markets, and two unburied bodies – apparently of insurgents – in a cemetery.
"We have been starving for many days. We have been cooking tree leaves to keep ourselves alive. Thank God it is over," a man called Afzal Khan told the AP. "We need food, we need help. We want peace."
As many as 300,000 people lived in the town before it was occupied by Taliban last month, reports Reuters. Since the beginning of the government offensive in late April, more than 3 million people in the region are believed to have fled their homes.