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Major city retaken from Taliban, Pakistan's military says

Pakistanis who fled the fighting in Swat Valley push into a tent Saturday to receive bread at the Chota Lahore relief camp that houses thousands of people in Swabi, Pakistan. The fighting has displaced about 3 million people, officials say.

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Pakistanis who fled the fighting in Swat Valley push into a tent Saturday to receive bread at the Chota Lahore relief camp that houses thousands of people in Swabi, Pakistan. The fighting has displaced about 3 million people, officials say.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan's military said Saturday that it had taken full control of Mingora, the most populous city in the Swat Valley, scoring a significant victory against Taliban forces three weeks after the start of an offensive in the area.

Capturing Mingora, 100 miles north of the capital of Islamabad, had been one of the army's primary objectives. But Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, a military spokesman, conceded that the Taliban had not put up a strong fight for the city and that many insurgents probably slipped away. Large parts of Swat remain beyond the government's grip.

"They had prepared Mingora city … with bunkers, but when they realized that they were being encircled and the noose was tightening they decided not to give a pitched battle," he said.

The campaign against the Taliban is seen as a test of Pakistan's resolve to fight its growing insurgency, which has spread substantially in the past two years, and which the United States says is compromising efforts to quell a similar insurgency in neighboring Afghanistan.

Abbas announced the killing of two militant commanders, Abu Syed and Misbahuddin, but said it was unclear whether any more senior leaders had been killed or captured.

Overall, more than 1,200 militants have been killed since the army's offensive began, according to military statistics. Nearly 100 soldiers have lost their lives. The numbers have been impossible to verify because nearly all journalists and local officials have fled.

As many as 3 million people have fled their homes and sought refuge either in tent camps or with friends and relatives, Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira said.

Pakistan has said it plans to conduct its next campaign in Waziristan, a tribal area in Pakistan's northwest that is a stronghold for the Taliban and al-Qaida.

The government also finds itself hunkering down against a new battlefront — a bombing campaign in the country's cities.

Bombers struck in three Pakistani cities last week. On Wednesday in Lahore, gunmen attacked a building housing local police and Pakistani intelligence agents before detonating explosives in a van, killing 27 people.

A day later, attackers set off bombs on motorcycles parked outside busy markets in Peshawar, the largest city in northwest Pakistan, and attacked police with gunfire. At least six people were killed in that attack and more than 50 injured. That night, suicide bomb attacks killed four police officers on the outskirts of Peshawar and two people in the northwest city of Dera Ismail Khan.

As a result, security was tightened in Islamabad and other major cities. In Peshawar, a pall of fear hung over the city as Pakistanis avoided mosques and bazaars. Schools and colleges were shut down, and extra police patrolled the streets.

Major city retaken from Taliban, Pakistan's military says 05/30/09 [Last modified: Saturday, May 30, 2009 8:29pm]
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