Thursday, May 21, 2009

Pakistanis in Swat town fend off Taliban

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — Armed residents confronted a group of
Taliban fighters and foiled their attempt to sneak into a town in
Pakistan's Swat Valley, the focus of a major military offensive
against the insurgency, an official said Thursday.

The attempted infiltration in Kalam indicated militants are feeling
pinched by the army and are seeking new shelter, while the rare local
resistance Wednesday suggested growing public confidence in an
anti-Taliban operation supported by the United States.

Deputy Mayor Shamshad Haqqai told The Associated Press about 50
Taliban fighters tried to enter his town, but that armed residents
quickly gathered to fight them off. They captured eight militants amid
a shootout and were expecting another attack, Haqqai said.

"We will not allow Taliban to come here," he said. Kalam has about
50,000 residents.

The military said Wednesday its troops had killed 80 militants and
cleared Sultanwas, a town south of the valley in Buner district.
Meanwhile, American military planes brought aid for civilians fleeing
the fierce fighting, and Pakistan's government announced it was
devoting $100 million to help bring relief to the refugees.

Washington has long pressed Islamabad to clear al-Qaida and Taliban
sanctuaries in its northwest regions bordering Afghanistan.

Pakistani troops launched the latest offensive last month after
Taliban militants based in Swat pushed into Buner, bringing them
within 60 miles (100 kilometers) of the capital of Islamabad and
prompting intense U.S. pressure for a stiff response.

The army claims it has killed more than 1,000 militants and won back
swaths of territory from militants in Swat, a valley whose scenery and
cooler climate once drew hordes of summer tourists.

However, authorities say the clashes have prompted about 1.9 million
people to flee their homes, creating a humanitarian crisis that could
sap Pakistani enthusiasm for the effort if it drags on or is extended
to other areas.

Pakistani generals have refused to predict how long it will take to
eliminate militants from Swat.

However, Rear Adm. Michael A. LeFever, the top U.S. military official
at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, forecast Wednesday that between
200,000 and 250,000 will be living in refugee camps at least until the
end of 2009.

Relatives have taken in most of those driven out of Swat in fear of
their lives. But about 160,000 refugees have registered so far at the
camps, Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira said Wednesday.

Many thousands more are believed to be hunkered down in their homes in
Swat, unwilling or unable to move.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced Tuesday that
Washington would provide $110 million in immediate humanitarian
assistance to Pakistan. As part of that support, two American military
planes touched down Wednesday at an air base near Islamabad laden with
air-conditioned tents and 120,000 pre-packed meals, the U.S. Embassy

U.S. authorities say they already delivered shipments of wheat and
vegetable oil valued at about $28 million to Pakistan last week.

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani was expected to preside
over a donors conference for the refugees in Islamabad later Thursday
to seek help from other countries and aid agencies.

A meeting of top Pakistani government officials Wednesday resulted in
a decision to devote $100 million to ease the humanitarian emergency,
said Farahnaz Ispahani, a spokeswoman for the country's president.

An Associated Press writer who is not being identified for security
reasons contributed to this report from Peshawar.

No comments:

Post a Comment