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Pakistan - Swat valley offensive

Taliban bombarded in bastions, 700,000 have fled Swat

Article published on the 2009-05-13 Latest update 2009-05-13 15:39 TU

Men fleeing a military offensive in the Swat valley approach a checkpost in Swabi district(Photo: Reuters)

Men fleeing a military offensive in the Swat valley approach a checkpost in Swabi district
(Photo: Reuters)

Helicopter gunships are pounding Taliban bastions in Pakistan's Swat valley, as the army continues its offensive. But civilians still find themselves caught in the crossfire and thousands of refugees continue to pour out of the area.

Residents trapped in the main Swat town of Mingora say that the Taliban have planted mines and are digging trenches, while the military says that it has sealed all exits from the town.

Air strikes are hitting Taliban bastions in Swat, where up to 15,000 members of the security forces are taking on about 4,000 Taliban fighters, and neighbouring Lower Dir.

Officials said that 13 helicopters dropped commandos on the Peochar valley, which is considered to be the Islamists' rear base, where their leader Mullah Fazlullah and spokesperson Muslim Khan are said to be based. 

Local politicians say that 700,000 people have now fled the area. The UN refugee agency confirms that about 170,000 have fled over the last 24 hours, on top of its previous estimate of 500,000 internally displaced people.

On a visit to London on his way home from the US, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari denied estimates that the government only has solid control of less than 40 per cent of the area. He earlier appealed for international aid to tackle the humanitarian crisis there.

In Islamabad Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani met Afghan President Hamid Karzai on the margins of a development conference. A Pakistani government statement said that Afghanistan is to launch a similar offensive on its territory.

Pakistani Army Chief of Staff General Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani on Wednesday ordered troops to ensure "minimum collateral damage even at the expense of taking risks, by resorting to precision strikes", amid fears of high civilian casualties.

Pakistani papers report the death of at least one child and one other non-combatant killed in recent fighting.