The Pakistani military and the Taliban are battling in the Taliban-controlled districts of Swat and Buner. The Pakistani military claimed 37 Taliban fighters and four security personnel were killed in Swat and 27 more Taliban fighters were killed neighboring Buner.
The Taliban took over the town of Saidu Sharif late last night and occupied government offices and the homes of political figures, including the home of Swat’s District Coordination Officer.
Mingora, the main town in Swat, was also overrun by the Taliban. “Armed Taliban are patrolling the roads of Mingora and other areas,” the Pakistani military said. The military is attacking Taliban positions with helicopter gunships, Dawn reported.
The Taliban have come down from their bases in the surrounding mountains and began attacking police stations and checkpoints on Sunday after saying the peace agreement signed in February was dead. The Taliban are also seeding the area with roadside bombs.
“Militants in gross violation of peace accord, continued firing at various check posts of security forces in Kanju, Saidu Sharif, Matta and other areas of Swat,” the Pakistani military said in a press release. “Militants have planted IEDs in various areas of Swat to inflict causalities on security forces and civilians.”
The military claimed Taliban fighters were attacking security forces from the Emerald Mines. The military returned fire and claimed to have killed 35 Taliban fighters during the engagement.
The Taliban disputed the military’s account of casualties and claimed none of their fighters have been killed. Late last night, Daily Times reported that 21 people were killed in Swat, the large majority being civilians. The Pakistani military has been reporting high Taliban casualties, but as reports from Buner show, many of those reported killed are civilians attempting to flee the battlefield. The military has shot up cars filled with civilians and claimed they were suicide bombers.
Large numbers of civilians have begun to flee Swat in anticipation of a renewed military in the region. More than 50,000 civilians have left Swat already, and 500,000 of the district’s 1.5 million residents are expected to leave. Regular Army troops are said to have been moved to the region to renew the offensive in Swat; 6,000 troops or two brigades are rumored to have been deployed near Swat and Buner last week.
Background on fighting in Swat and the Malakand Accord
The government signed the Malakand Accord with Taliban front man Sufi Mohammed, Fazlullah’s father-in-law, on February 16 after two years of fighting that put the Taliban in control of the district. During those two years, the military was defeated three separate times while attempting the wrest control of the Taliban. Each defeat put the Taliban in greater control of the district.
The peace agreement called for the end of military operations in Swat, the end of Taliban operations, and the imposition of sharia, or Islamic law, in the districts of Malakand, Swat, Shangla, Buner, Dir, Chitral, and Kohistan, a region that encompasses nearly one-third of the Northwest Frontier Province.
But the Taliban violated the agreement immediately after signing it, and proceeded to attack security forces and conduct armed patrols. The military remained silent while the government approved the Taliban’s demand for sharia throughout Malakand.
The government ordered a military offensive in Dir and Buner after enormous pressure from the US and other Western governments to stem the Taliban tide pushing toward central Pakistan. The Taliban advanced from Swat into Buner in early April and took over the district in eight days. The move into Buner has put the Taliban within 60 miles of Islamabad and close to several nuclear facilities and the vital Tarbela Dam. The Taliban also have moved into Mansehra and established bases and a training camp in the region.
Pakistani government and military officials have dismissed the Taliban threat to Islamabad and the country’s nuclear facilities, but at the end of April, the local Islamabad government ordered troops to deploy in the Margala hills just north of the city to block a Taliban advance, while the Haripur government beefed up security at the Tarbela Dam.