Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Civilians flee fighting near Pakistan-Afghan border

Children wait to receive tea at a refugee camp near Mardan, Pakistan, on Friday. Thousands of residents are fleeing the fighting between the army and Taliban militants in the Swat Valley and neighboring districts in Pakistan’s northwest.

Associated Press

Children wait to receive tea at a refugee camp near Mardan, Pakistan, on Friday. Thousands of residents are fleeing the fighting between the army and Taliban militants in the Swat Valley and neighboring districts in Pakistan’s northwest.

MARDAN, Pakistan — Pakistan's army vowed Friday to eliminate militants from a northwestern valley but warned that its underequipped troops face thousands of Taliban extremists who have seized towns, planted bombs made from pressure cookers and dragooned children to be suicide bombers.

As air force jets roared overhead and gunbattles raged, terrified civilians from the Swat Valley and neighboring districts accelerated their exodus, with U.N. and Pakistani officials predicting that 1 million refugees will soon burden the turbulent Afghan border region.

The army formally announced Friday that an offensive was under way. It has drawn praise from U.S. officials alarmed at the Taliban's recent advance to within 60 miles of the capital, Islamabad.

Washington says the militants are a threat to nuclear-armed Pakistan itself, as well as to U.S. chances of destroying al-Qaida or of winning the war against their insurgent allies in neighboring Afghanistan.

There are doubts about the ability and resolve of the army and the government to sustain the kind of grinding counterinsurgency warfare needed to defeat extremists whose rhetoric resonates widely in a Muslim nation deeply skeptical of U.S. goals in the region.

Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, chief army spokesman, said the army needs helicopters, surveillance drones and night-vision equipment, which the United States is scrambling to provide.

Pakistan's army is fighting to wrest Swat and two neighboring districts from militants who dominate the adjoining tribal belt along the Afghan frontier, where U.S. officials say al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden is likely holed up.

Abbas said Friday that more than 140 militants and two soldiers had been killed in Swat in the last 24 hours, roughly doubling the number of casualties reported so far.

The stream of civilians seeking safety appeared to have intensified, leaving Pakistan facing a humanitarian emergency. The U.N. refugee agency said provincial officials had told them 500,000 had fled, were on the move, or were trying to flee. About a half-million have already been made homeless elsewhere in the border region since August 2008, when the army launched its last major anti-Taliban operation in the Bajur border region.

Tens of thousands of people are trapped in Mingora, Swat's main town. Some have accused the Taliban of not allowing them to leave, perhaps because they want to use them as human shields. Others came under attack even as they fled.

Civilians flee fighting near Pakistan-Afghan border 05/08/09 [Last modified: Friday, May 8, 2009 10:17pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Trump's lawyers seek to undercut Mueller's Russia investigation

    Politics

    Some of President Donald Trump's lawyers are exploring ways to limit or undercut Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, building a case against what they allege are his conflicts of interest and discussing the president's authority to grant pardons, the Washington Post reported, citing people familiar …

    President Donald Trump is said to be irritated by the notion that the special counsel's investigation could reach into his and his family's finances. [Associated Press]
  2. North Tampa shooting leaves one man dead

    Crime

    Times staff

    TAMPA — A man was fatally shot Thursday afternoon after an argument with another man escalated, police said.

  3. St. Pete City Council tightens building rules in historic areas

    Local Government

    ST. PETERSBURG — There's a battle being waged over the soul of the city's historic neighborhoods.

    A new larger home sits next to a smaller one in the Kenwood neighborhood in St. Petersburg on Tuesday.
  4. Ole Miss football coach Hugh Freeze resigns over 'inappropriate conduct' (w/ video)

    College

    OXFORD, Miss. — Mississippi coach Hugh Freeze was at Jackson Country Club on Wednesday night, giving his yearly rah-rah speech about the Rebels overcoming adversity and getting ready for the college football season.

    If Hugh Freeze hadn’t resigned, Ole Miss says it would have fired him for violating his contract’s moral turpitude clause.
  5. Fennelly: With playoff chase in high gear, it's time for Rays to make a move

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG

    Thursday was an off-day for the Rays, who are coming off a solid western swing. I assume there was no rest for the tag-team Rays baseball brain trust of Matt Silverman, Erik Neander and Chaim Bloom, whose job it is to improve this team in advance of the trade deadline. They've done a good job …

    Evan Longoria is glad to see the Rangers coming to town: He’s batting .296 against them with 15 homers and 56 RBIs in 69 career games.