Pakistani troops battling the Taliban captured several points in Swat Valley’s main town, the army said on Sunday. This included a spot nicknamed “bloody intersection” — a term derived from the fact that militants routinely dumped the mutilated bodies of their victims there.
Elsewhere in the northwest, helicopter gunships pounded alleged militant hide-outs in a tribal region, killing at least 18 people, while police said they had captured an important militant commander and six other Taliban fighters.
Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters have long had hide-outs in Pakistan’s northwest. The US has pushed Pakistan to use force to root out the insurgents, who are often involved in attacks on US troops across the border in Afghanistan.
The operation in Swat has strong support from Washington, and retaking Mingora, the valley’s main commercial hub and urban centre, is considered critical to its success.
A military statement on Sunday said forces moving from street to street secured eight crossings while encountering at least 12 roadside bombs. One secured spot is Green Chowk, which earned the “bloody intersection” tag due to the terrifying spectacle of the Taliban victims.
Five suspected militants were killed in various parts of Mingora while 14 others were arrested, the army said. At least 10,000 to 20,000 residents are still stranded in the town, which normally has a population of at least 3,75,000.
One trapped civilian told AP via phone on Saturday night that gunshots were ringing through the air, first continuously then at intervals. He said he had tried to flee the city twice but failed due to the fighting and lack of transportation.
“I will try to leave again whenever I get another chance,” said Fazal Wadood, a local leader of the Pakistan Muslim League (N). “It is like inviting death to stay here anymore.”
Officials have downplayed reports that the army would soon expand the offensive to the lawless, semi-autonomous tribal regions bordering Afghanistan. However, violence has continued to flare in those areas.