24 May 2009

Pakistan army fights for key city

9:56 pm on 24 May 2009

Pakistan's army says it has recaptured several key areas of Mingora, the main city in the Swat valley, as its offensive against the Taliban continues.

The army says it is clearing landmines from the areas of Mingora under its control.

But clashes are continuing, with soldiers and militants engaged in hand-to-hand fighting as security forces and the Taliban struggle for supremacy.

Locals still trapped in Swat's main town say security forces have fought their way to the centre of the city.

Several important intersections and three main squares, including Green Square where the Taliban is thought to have carried out several beheadings, are now reportedly controlled by the army.

A military statement says the advance into Mingora is a new phase in an offensive which began on 2 May in the Swat Valley.

The military claim to have killed 17 Taliban militants - a figure the Taliban denies.

Major General Athar Abbas says it's a slow and dangerous operation, because the clearance is being done "street by street, house by house."

He says up to 20,000 civilians were still trapped there.

Jets hit militants in northwest

Pakistan says its aircraft have bombed Taliban militants in the Orakzai ethnic Pashtun region, killing at least seven.

Security officials say government forces attacked a group of militants in Orakzai who were preparing to travel to the South Waziristan region on the Afghan border to fight the army there.

Government fighter aircraft bombed militant hideouts in several strikes on three villages over the course of several hours, said Yaseen Khan, a senior government official in the region's main town of Ghaljo.

A Taliban spokesman in the region Maulvi Haider said 13 of his men had been killed and he vowed revenge.

"We'll hit back and our target could be anywhere in Pakistan," he said.

Residents said the aircraft had struck a madrasa, or Islamic religious school, which was being used by the militants.


Swat is in North West Frontier Province. The Taliban also controls much of the neighbouring valley of Buner, around 100km from the capital, Islamabad.

Nearly 1.7 million people have been displaced by the fighting. About 555,000 people were forced from their homes by earlier fighting in the region.

The United Nations on Friday launched a $US543 million appeal for the displaced. On Thursday, donors promised $US224 million, including $US110 million from the United States.