Civilians flee ‘wild’ northwest as army threatens to strike | world | Hindustan Times
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Civilians flee ‘wild’ northwest as army threatens to strike

world Updated: Sep 28, 2009 22:58 IST

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Hundreds of civilians were fleeing Al Qaeda and the Taliban’s main stronghold in northwest Pakistan after the army and militants asked them to leave, a tribal elder and a witness said Monday, a sign the military could be poised to launch an offensive.

Pakistan has vowed to root out militants in the northwest, many of whom allegedly use the mountainous tribal areas along the border as a base for attacks on American and NATO troops in Afghanistan.

Pakistan jets have bombed targets in the stronghold of Waziristan in recent months, but the military has said it would launch full-scale ground operations at the “appropriate” time.

Authorities could not be reached for comment. Residents said recent days have shown an increase in the number of people leaving the Makeen and Ladha areas of South Waziristan, though many have been fleeing to the relative safety of nearby towns for months.

“People are leaving the area for their safety,” tribal elder Maulana Hassamuddin said. He said the military had urged people to leave in the past few days, so he did. Resident Amir Ullah said the Taliban had also asked locals to flee.

He said he and his friends rented a vehicle to take them to the town of Bannu for more than double the normal price.

Western countries were cheered by a military offensive in the nearby Swat Valley earlier this year.