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Pak army to avoid civilian casualties

Pakistan’s army chief General Ashfaq Kayani ordered his men on Wednesday to keep civilian casualties to a minimum, even if that meant danger for them, in an offensive against Taliban in Swat valley.

world Updated: May 14, 2009 01:23 IST

Pakistan’s army chief General Ashfaq Kayani ordered his men on Wednesday to keep civilian casualties to a minimum, even if that meant danger for them, in an offensive against Taliban in Swat valley.

The offensive, launched last week after the US accused the government of “abdicating” to militants, has broad political and public support.

But that could change if many civilians are killed or if the hundreds of thousands displaced by the fighting suffer.

“(Kayani) has instructed the army to ensure minimum collateral damage, even at the expense of taking risks,” the army said.

The offensive was launched when President Asif Ali Zardari was in Washington assuring the US that his government was not about to collapse and was committed to fighting militancy.
Pakistan’s action against militants in its northwest is vital for US efforts to defeat al Qaeda and stabilise Afghanistan.

About 15,000 soldiers face about 5,000 militants in the Swat region, the army says.

Government aircraft attacked militants in Peochar valley on Wednesday, officials said.
Helicopter-borne soldiers swooped into the Taliban stronghold on Tuesday and established a firm hold that night, the military said.

Eleven militants and five soldiers had been killed in various clashes in Swat over the previous 24 hours, it said. The military said on Tuesday 751 militants and 29 soldiers had been killed in the offensive.

Reporters have left Swat and there was no independent confirmation of that estimate of militant casualties. A Taliban spokesman said only seven of his men had been killed.

“Morale is high. All areas are still under our control,” spokesman Muslim Khan said. Khan threatened members of parliament from Swat, saying they should resign or their families would be hunted down.

Karzai backs Islamabad

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, in Pakistan for an economic conference, told Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani his government would launch a similar offensive, Gilani’s office said, adding Karzai fully backed Pakistan’s efforts.

A military official overseeing help for the displaced said an estimated 800,000 civilians had fled from the latest fighting. They join about 500,000 displaced by earlier fighting in the northwest.