A Pakistani military offensive against Taliban fighters near the Afghan border has killed more than 1,000 suspected insurgents and “will continue till the last Taliban are flushed out,” a top official said on Sunday.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik, speaking after visiting Pakistanis displaced by the battle, also wouldn't rule out extending the operation in the Swat Valley and surrounding areas to other parts of the northwest where al-Qaida and the Taliban have long thrived.
It was not possible to independently verify the figures provided by Malik — the affected territories are now too dangerous for journalists to freely roam — but his declarations seemed designed to show Pakistani resolve amid intense US pressure.
“The operation is going in the right direction as we had planned,” Malik said in a televised news conference from Mardan, a district hosting several relief camps for some of the nearly 1 million people turned refugees. “People wish to go back. That is what the government also wants. I cannot give a time but we will try (to complete the operation) at the earliest.”
Britain's Sunday Times reported that Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari said military action would follow in the tribal belt.
“We're going to go into Waziristan, all these regions, with army operations," the newspaper quoted Zardari as saying in an interview. “Swat is just the start. It's a larger war to fight.” Zardari's spokesmen could not immediately be reached Sunday. Malik did not respond directly when asked about a potential extension.
“Wherever the government requires an operation, we will, God willing, do that,” he said.
Malik also denied allegations that Pakistan had lost control of any of its territory, though accounts from the 3,500-square mile (9,000-square kilometer) Swat Valley alone have long suggested that government authority in much of that region was nonexistent. “I should say there are pockets in Swat, maybe 2 percent maximum, where the Taliban are creating problems,” Malik said.
The army has been preparing to assail the Swat Valley's main town, Mingora, where many of the estimated 4,000 Taliban fighters in the valley are believed to be holed up.