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Pak jets strike Taliban targets 60 km off Islamabad

By Rezaul H Laskar in Islamabad
April 29, 2009 15:36 IST
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Pakistan army on Wednesday airdropped commandos to take control of the main Daggar town in embattled Buner district as the military expanded its operation to halt Taliban's advance towards Islamabad.

Fighter jets and helicopter gunship struck well entrenched Taliban defences, atop mountains in various hamlets of Buner, just 60 kilometres from Islamabad.

The Commandos took control of Daggar, which is the main town of Buner with a population of over 25,000. But militants continued to hold 60 security men hostage, whom they had captured in Pir Baba area.

Residents also reported, heavy artillery, tanks and ground troops in hundreds moving towards Buner as forces sought to drive the Taliban back into the Swat Valley. The army estimates there are 400-500 Taliban militants hiding in Buner.

Islamabad under intense US pressure to take a tough stance against Taliban has now expanded the arc of its military offensive to bring more and more Tehrik-e-Taliban militants under its line of fire, from Dir near the lawless tribal territory close to Afghanistan border to Buner in the Pakistani heartland.

As the military operation went into full steam, the US has held it as "exactly the appropriate response to halt the progress of Taliban".

At least 60 police and Frontier Constabulary personnel were taken hostage by the Taliban in Pir Baba area of Buner on Tuesday night, media reports said.

The News daily put the number of hostages at 71. The soldiers continue to be in the custody of the militants and there was no official word on their status.

The security men were taken hostage after militants lured them to a mosque near the Pir Baba shrine on the pretext of holding talks with them. Among those taken hostage are the chief of the Pir Baba police station. A majority of the hostages are Frontier Constabulary personnel, reports said.

As the security forces inducted fighters and used heavy artillery there was no official word on casualties in Buner district.

The army in a statement has said that reports of withdrawal of Taliban were a mere show and that bulk of the militants continue to be in the town.

Chief military spokesman Maj Gen Athar Abbas on Tuesday said some 75 militants and 10 security personnel were killed in an operation in the nearby Dir district. He also said up to 700 militants were present in Dir and Buner districts.

A large number of residents of Buner have started migrating to other places in the North West Frontier Province, adding to the provincial government's problems in caring for people displaced by the recent fighting. Reports said up to 30,000 people have been displaced by the operations.

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Rezaul H Laskar in Islamabad
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