Pakistan army says dozens of Taliban killed

Children reach to receive ice in the Chota Lahore camp for displaced people in the Swabi district of Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province.
(Emilio Morenatti / Associated Press)
Associated Press

Pakistani forces killed 80 militants and drove the Taliban from a major urban stronghold Wednesday, the army said, as U.S. military planes brought aid for civilians fleeing fierce fighting in the northwest.

In an indication that the fighting in the Swat Valley area and the resulting humanitarian emergency may drag on, a U.S. military official predicted that 250,000 refugees would still be in camps at the end of the year.

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

Government forces cleared Sultanwas, the main Taliban-held town in Buner, overnight following intense clashes, army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said.

He said troops destroyed several vehicles used by black-clad militants and defused a string of homemade bombs.

“Sultanwas was the main stronghold of terrorist miscreants in Buner, where they have made concrete underground bunkers and ammunition dumps,” Abbas said at a news conference.

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

More than 50 troops have died, including one soldier Wednesday as soldiers battled insurgents entrenched in several key towns in the valley, Abbas said.

Authorities say the clashes have prompted 1.9 million people to flee their homes, creating a humanitarian crisis that could sap Pakistani enthusiasm for similar crackdowns against Taliban and Al Qaeda sanctuaries near the Afghan border.

Two previous offensives ended in short-lived peace deals from which the militants emerged stronger.