Locals help Pakistan army chase Taliban in Swat

NY Times:

Pakistan’s military said Saturday that it had taken full control of Mingora, the most populous city in the Swat Valley, scoring a significant victory against Taliban forces three weeks after the start of an offensive in the area.

Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, a military spokesman, said at a news conference that the army was able to flush out militants, in part with the help of locals who showed soldiers Taliban hiding places in hotels and other buildings. The military estimates it has killed more than 1,000 militants since the campaign began on May 8.

Mingora, 100 miles northwest of Islamabad, the capital, is the most important city in Swat, a resort area that was overrun by the Taliban. The campaign is seen as a test of Pakistan’s resolve to fight its growing insurgency, which has spread substantially in the past two years, and which the United States says is compromising efforts to quell a similar insurgency in neighboring Afghanistan.

General Abbas announced the killing of two militant commanders, Abu Syed and Misbahuddin, but said it was unclear whether any more senior leaders had been killed or captured. “We are refraining from announcing or declaring until we have something in hand — some proof, some smoking gun,” General Abbas said.

Pakistan’s military has conducted two previous operations in Swat, but each involved fewer ground troops than this offensive, and they were criticized as causing too much harm to civilians without discernible gains against the Taliban.

Now, General Abbas said, the Pakistani public seems to be firmly behind the expanded offensive. “The military feels it’s in a much better position to finish the job because it has public support,” he said.

Soldiers’ deaths have been commemorated in emotional public ceremonies, and news channels have been praising troops with segments with headlines like “All the Right Moves.”

The fight in Swat has been against an enemy that is largely local, General Abbas said. Just 10 percent of the militants are from outside the valley, mostly from Central Asia and Afghanistan; a handful are from Waziristan, a tribal area in Pakistan’s northwest that is a no-go zone for the military and a stronghold for the Taliban and Al Qaeda. The military estimates that there were 5,000 militants in the valley before the operation.


Pakistan has said it plans to conduct its next campaign in Waziristan.

In Mingora, militants were hiding in hotels and other private buildings, posing as civilians, General Abbas said. They had converted some buildings into bunkers. Soldiers also found five tunnels, 100 feet long and 12 feet wide, filled with arms.

The article was written by Sabrina Tavernise who is an excellent war correspondent. She manages to get information from the army that suggest they are getting the people on their side. That is a key in counterinsurgency warfare and one of the mistakes Pakistan made in the past was using an inadequate force which meant the people were reluctant to provide intelligence on the enemy for fear of reprisial. By coming in overwhelming force they are now getting intellignece and identification of the enemy.

It is also encouraging that they are planning to go into Waziristan after they clear Swat. If only 10 percent of the Taliban killed or captured in Swat were from outside the area then they have a lot of work ahead of them.


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