Pakistani forces drive Taliban from key town

Pakistani troops on patrol close to the Buner district in the northwest of the country.
Pakistan’s military intensified its drive against the Taliban in the country’s restive tribal regions Wednesday, reclaiming a key town in the northwest district of Buner.

A military spokesman said the operation took place in and around Daggar, the region’s main town, and was coordinated with Pakistani police and Frontier Corps. Airstrikes by Pakistani fighter jets killed 70 to 75 militants in the neighboring Dir district a day earlier, military spokesman Gen. Athar Abbas told reporters. The air attacks came after the army launched an offensive against suspected militants and their hideouts in Lower Dir at the weekend. The Dir and Buner regions border the violence-plagued Swat valley. The Pakistani government has been criticized for not cracking down on militants along its border with Afghanistan. As a result, the U.S. military has carried out drone attacks against militant targets in Pakistan, which have rankled relations between the two countries. However, Pakistan’s recent military crackdown has led to an exodus of civilians from the region. At least 33,000 residents have left their homes in the midst of the recent fighting, according to Amnesty International.

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Civilians fleeing from Lower Dir in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province join more than 500,000 people already displaced by the fighting, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said. The Pakistani military on Tuesday completed its operation to eliminate and expel militants in Dir, and is now focusing on the Buner district, Abbas said.

About 300 militants entered Buner a few days ago, in violation of the Taliban’s recent agreement to leave the district, he said. Buner is about 60 miles from Islamabad, but Abbas said the militants pose no threat to the capital. The fighter jets pounded targets in Buner and the Swat Valley in an effort to block the militants’ entry and exit points, he added.