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Terrorism & Security

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, Syed Athar Ali, celebrated the push into Mingora, telling a security forum in Singapore he believed the government's Swat campaign would be successful within days.

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"Operations in Swat, Buner and adjoining areas have almost met complete success," the secretary of defence said.
"Only five to ten percent job is remaining and hopefully within the next two to three days these pockets of resistance will be cleared."

The most recent Swat offensive is Pakistan's third attempt to push the Taliban from the region, reports the New York Times, and is by far its most successful. The key ingredient appears to be the backing of the public, which has so far been supportive of the Swat offensive, according to military spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas.

Pakistan's military has conducted two previous operations in Swat, but each involved fewer ground troops than this offensive, and they were criticized as causing too much harm to civilians without discernible gains against the Taliban.
Now, General Abbas said, the Pakistani public seems to be firmly behind the expanded offensive. "The military feels it's in a much better position to finish the job because it has public support," he said.
Soldiers' deaths have been commemorated in emotional public ceremonies, and news channels have been praising troops with segments with headlines like "All the Right Moves."

But as government forces close in on the Taliban, the militants have been striking back, often far from the combat zone.

Pakistani daily Dawn reported Sunday that 80 civilians have been killed, and scores more injured, in 14 bombings that have struck Pakistani cities since the start of the government assault at the end of April.

Attackers are becoming increasingly sophisticated, analysts say, executing commando-style assaults armed with suicide vests, vehicle bombs, guns, grenades and rockets.

Over the last two weeks in Peshawar, bombs have exploded outside a cinema, near crowded electronics shops, at a police checkpoint and even alongside a bus full of children with special needs.

And in Lahore, Pakistan's entertainment capital, a bomb, gun and grenade assault killed 24 people and partially damaged the provincial headquarters of the country's premier spy agency on Wednesday.

It was the third spectacular assault in and around the eastern city — hundreds of miles from the offensive in the northwest — in as many months.

General Abbas, the military spokesman, said 1,217 militants have been killed since fighting began, reports Reuters. An estimated 81 soldiers have been killed, and 250 have been wounded.

Newspaper columnist Shafqat Mehmood tells Dawn he sees the bombings in Lahore and Peshawar as a sign of the Taliban's growing desperation in the face of such steep losses.

'Militants are under pressure and will employ any tactic to cause maximum damage. Urban terrorism is one of those tactics,' said Mehmood.
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