Pakistan's army cites progress vs. Taliban

By Zarar Khan
Associated Press / May 21, 2009
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ISLAMABAD - Pakistani troops killed 80 militants and drove the Taliban from a major urban stronghold yesterday, the army said, as US military planes brought aid for refugees fleeing fierce fighting across the northwest.

One soldier was killed and nine seriously wounded as troops battled insurgents still holding several other towns in the neighboring Swat Valley, a military spokesman said.

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

Government forces cleared Sultanwas, the main Taliban-held town in Buner, overnight following intense clashes, army spokesman Major General 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.

The army said it has killed more than 1,000 militants and won back swaths of territory recently seized by the militants.

However, the clashes have prompted some 1.5 million people to flee their homes, a humanitarian emergency that could sap Pakistani enthusiasm for similar action against other Taliban and Al Qaeda sanctuaries near the Afghan border.

Relatives have taken in many of those fleeing. However, more than 100,000 refugees are housed in sweltering camps south of the war zone.

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced Tuesday that Washington would provide $110 million in immediate humanitarian assistance to Pakistan. Two American military planes landed yesterday at an air base near Islamabad with supplies including air-conditioned tents and 120,000 pre-packed meals, the US Embassy said.