Pak widens crackdown on Taliban, 62 militants killed

Pak widens crackdown on Taliban, 62 militants killed

Widening its crackdown on Taliban, Pakistan Army on Wednesday attacked militants with helicopter gunships and tanks, as troops rolled in to wrest control of the restive Swat valley killing 62 extremists in one of the most bloodiest fightings.

While 35 Taliban fighters were killed as troops, under heavy tank fire cover, engaged the militants in street fighting in Mingora and took control of Emerald Mines, which Taliban were exploiting to enrich their coffers, a military spokesman said.

Heavy fighting also raged in the nearby Buner district where troops blasted Taliban fortifications in Pir Baba and Sultanwas areas killing 27 militants.

Shells and rockets landed on Mingora, the main town in the valley, where Taliban seized all major government buildings, including that of the local mayor and DIG of Police, and mined all thoroughfares in anticipation of a land assault.

Troops took control of the Emerald Mines, which witnessed some of the heaviest fighting, military spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas told reporters.

"35 militants were killed near the Emerald Mines," he said.

The offensive sounded a death-knell for the controversial peace deal and triggered a massive exodus from Mingora and other towns with thousands of people fleeing the area after authorities asked them to do so.

Around 50,000 people were reported to have left various towns of the Swat valley with the provincial authorities saying that the figure could go as high as 500,000.

The action by the Pakistani security forces came as the trilateral summit of US, Pakistan and Afghanistan went underway in Washington with Asif Ali Zardari assuring his host that Islamabad's commitments to flush out militants will not waver.

Zardari's reaction came as top Obama Administration officials told Pakistan to demonstrate its commitments to fight militants.

While a curfew was in force in major towns of Swat keeping people off the streets, troops attacked militants in and around Mingora.

Pakistan military also bombarded insurgent positions in Buner killing 27 militants and destroying eight of their vehicles.

The bombardment was aimed at two Taliban strongholds of Pir Baba and Sultanwas areas, which are just outside Daggar. Army has so far failed to dislodge the Taliban from these areas despite days of heavy fighting.

The military has accused the Taliban of violating the accord by abducting and killing civilians and security personnel.

The North West Frontier Province government has accused the Taliban of not honouring their commitments under the peace deal despite the administration’s move to set up Shariah or Islamic law courts in Malakand division, which includes Buner, Dir and Swat districts.

Authorities allocated Rs 140 million for relief programmes while Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani yesterday approved an allocation of Rs 500 million to speed up relief activities for "internally displaced persons" in NWFP.

He also approved a supplementary grant of Rs 8 million for procuring food for the displaced people on an emergency basis

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