Pakistani forces battle Taliban, wrest key town (Roundup)

Islamabad, April 29 (Inditop) Pakistani security forces Wednesday battled the heavily armed Taliban fighters and wrested control of a key town in restive North West Frontier Province’s Buner district after troopers used helicopters to rappel down in mountainous areas, authorities said.

Troops secured Daggar, which is the main town in Buner district, a military spokesman said on the second day of the offensive against the Taliban militants who fired at helicopters with heavy machineguns.

At least 60 personnel of police and the Frontier Constabulary were taken hostage by Taliban in Buner’s Pir Baba area as security forces, backed by helicopter gunships and jet fighters, launched an operation in the district and pounded suspected hideouts of militants in some of its border areas, Dawn reported.

Hundreds of people who left their homes following the offensive against the Taliban were facing problems because of lack of transport, food and shelter.

Residents who stayed back saw troops rappel down ropes from helicopters outside Daggar while firing and explosions were also heard intermittently, the report said.

“We saw a helicopter dropping troops on the hills early this morning. It came about seven or eight times,” Arshad Imran told Dawn News while standing in the town’s central market.

“We hear sound of explosions off and on and we can see helicopters flying over the mountains.”

Some 450 militants are estimated to be in the Buner valley and it may take a week to clear them out.

Talking to journalists by phone, a militant commander, Hafeezullah, threatened to attack all leaders of the ruling Awami National Party and Pakistan Peoples Party if the government did not end the operation by Wednesday.

Pakistan’s interior ministry chief Rehman Malik Tuesday told Geo TV Tuesday that there was a threat of reaction from militants in other parts of the country following launch of a major military offensive in Buner.

He said that the government would launch operation in every area where writ of the state was challenged.

“Time for Taliban militants has ended,” he was quoted as saying.

At least 70 militants were killed by the security forces in Lower Dir while nearly 450 terrorists were holed up in Buner area, Malik said Tuesday, adding “we will not tolerate them anymore”.

The North West Frontier Province (NWFP) government and Taliban-backed radical cleric Sufi Mohammad had Feb 16 signed a controversial peace accord to impose Sharia laws in Swat and six other districts of the province in return for the militants laying down their arms.

President Asif Ali Zardari baulked at ratifying the accord in the face of strident international pressure and tossed the deal to parliament, which approved it April 13. Zardari approved it the same night and the accord came into force two days later.

The Taliban, however, did not keep their end of the bargain and moved south from Swat to seize control of Buner district last week.

While some of them moved out after intervention from Sufi Mohammad, chief of Tehrik-e- Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi (TNSM), a Taliban-aligned group, the bulk of the militants had stayed back, prompting the security forces to act against them.