Pakistani military to stay in Swat for a year
The military offensive to expel the Taliban from Pakistan's Swat Valley could take another two months to complete, and troops may have to stay for a year to prevent militants from retaking control, commanders said yesterday.
The armed forces have secured control over several key towns during the month-old campaign in the volatile northwestern region, but the fighting has uprooted some 3 million people from their homes and triggered a series of suspected reprisal attacks elsewhere in the country.
Chief army spokesman Maj Gen. Athar Abbas told reporters on a military-organized tour of Mingora town that it could take another two months of fighting to root the militants from all of their hide-outs in the lush, mountainous valleys of Swat and surrounding areas.
He cautioned, though, that two month timetable was "a rough estimate."
Earlier, Maj Gen Ijaz Awan, a senior commander in the eight-day battle for Mingora, said the military is gearing up for a fight in nearby Kabal town where top Taliban leaders are suspected of being holed up.
"We have bottled them up very well, hopefully this will be a decisive battle here" in Kabal, said Awan. "Their deaths are vital to killing their myth."
The battle for Swat, launched in late April after the militants abandoned a peace deal with the government that gave them control of the region, is seen by Washington as a test of Pakistan's resolve against militants in the northwestern border region with Afghanistan.
The United States strongly backs the campaign, and it has enjoyed broad support among Pakistanis tired of militant attacks in the country that have killed hundreds of civilians.
But that support may sour if civilian casualties turn out to be high or if the government is perceived to deal badly with the refugee crisis. The government is also having to contend with a rise in militant attacks in other parts of the country that officials say an attempt to distract the military's attention from Swat.
One such attack was Monday night's ambush-kidnap of scores of students from a military cadet school in North Waziristan, near the Afghan border.