Pakistan’s offensive against Taliban militants in the country’s northwest is overwhelming medical resources in the Swat Valley, hospital officials said Friday.
Staff members from Mardan Medical Center have treated 2,124 patients from clashes between the Pakistani military and Taliban fighters in more than two weeks of fighting, according to Dr. Arshad Ahmed. Many had shrapnel wounds, he said. Pakistani officials have said they expect as many as 500,000 civilians to flee the Swat Valley as fighting — now into a third week — expands. The hospital has set up two treatment centers — near the towns of Takhtbar and Shehzad, where refugee camps have been established for those displaced by the fighting. District Headquarters Hospital in Mardan is “ill equipped to deal” with the people coming through its doors for treatment, according to Dr. Aziz, the hospital’s chief medical officer. He said there are severe shortages of staff and supplies, including painkillers and antibiotics. The hospital had not received any dead, according to Aziz, who said people with serious injuries were being transferred to a Peshawar hospital. The United Nations’ refugee agency warned Friday that a “massive displacement” of civilians in northwest Pakistan was under way. It said 150,000 to 200,000 Pakistanis had already fled the military’s operation against Taliban militants over the last few days. Another 300,000 Pakistanis were on the move or expected to flee the fighting. The latest figures were in addition to 555,000 previously displaced civilians who have fled their homes in Pakistan’s tribal region and North West Frontier Province since August, according to the U.N. agency. Fighter jets and helicopter gunships pounded Taliban fighters in Swat Valley on Friday, and a Pakistani military official told CNN that more troops will join the 12,000 to 15,000 already in the region. Fighter jets and helicopter gunships pounded Taliban fighters in Swat on Friday, and a Pakistani military official told CNN that more troops will join the 12,000 to 15,000 already in the region. Watch as CNN’s Ivan Watson tours a refugee camp » Government aircraft attacked a militant position in Tehsil Kabbel, where the Taliban was occupying two girls’ schools. Helicopter gunships fired on the buildings, killing up to 15 militants and critically injuring four others, said Maj. Naser Khan, a Pakistani military spokesman.
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Pakistani troops battled militants in Kanju after the Taliban attacked an outpost just across the Swat river. After a heavy exchange of fire between militants and government forces, Khan said, five “hard-core” militants — including a commander named Akbar Ali — were killed. Thursday night, Pakistan’s prime minister formally renounced a peace agreement with Taliban militants and announced “decisive steps” to expand the battle in the country’s northwest. “To restore the honor and dignity of our homeland and to protect our people, the armed forces have been called in to eliminate the militants and terrorists,” Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said in a televised speech. The agreement effectively ended several weeks ago, when Taliban militants violated the deal by refusing to disarm and by advancing within 60 miles of Islamabad, the nation’s capital. Pakistani troops have battled the Taliban in the Buner and Lower Dir districts for more than two weeks.
The now-defunct peace deal allowed the Taliban to implement Islamic law, or sharia, in the Swat Valley region in exchange for an end to fighting. “I regret to say that our bona fide intention to prefer reconciliation with them was perceived as a weakness on our part,” Gilani said.