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Pakistani general touts gains in valley

From the Associated Press

The Pakistani army has driven Islamic militants from all the towns in a scenic northern valley and killed 290 of the followers of a pro-Taliban cleric who has called for a holy war against the government, a general said Saturday.

The militants, followers of firebrand preacher Maulana Qazi Fazlullah, had taken control of at least eight towns in the Swat valley since July, scattering outgunned police and erecting “Taliban station” signs at former police stations.

Officials accuse them of imposing a reign of terror, shuttering schools for girls and beheading people who opposed them.

During a tour of the area, Maj. Gen. Nasser Janjua said that since launching an offensive last month, his 20,000-strong force had managed to retake all the towns seized by the militants.

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“We have bottled them upward and we want to take a good toll of them,” Janjua said at an army base in Mingora, the region’s main town.

The rest of Fazlullah’s fighters, initially estimated to number about 5,000, apparently hid their weapons and melted into the local population.

Last week, Janjua said, the army launched a devastating attack that forced thousands of people to flee the area and allowed troops to seize Fazlullah’s sprawling Imam Dheri complex near Mingora, which includes a seminary, hostels and a mosque. Security forces also blew up Fazlullah’s home.

Janjua forecast that militants would try to mount at least one counterattack and said it would take another three to four months to stabilize the area.

He said 140 militants had been captured since the military began pouring troops, artillery and attack helicopters into the area in November.

He said only five soldiers and six civilians had been killed. Militants have claimed that far more security forces and bystanders have died and that the army is exaggerating its success.


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