Pakistan: Army capture of Swat Valley town leaves trail of destruction
Aid agencies say the humanitarian situation is still dire for Pakistanis in the northwestern Swat Valley, where the military waged a fierce battle for control of the main town of Mingora. The military victory there has left the town all but destroyed.
Just days after the military took control of Mingora, a few television journalists visited the town and reported scenes of devastation.
A Pakistani walks past the destruction caused by fighting between Pakistani security forces and Taliban militants in Mingora, Swat Valley, 31 May 2009
Pakistani journalist Ali Akbar was among them. He says the evidence of fierce fighting was obvious on the road from Mardan, south of Swat Valley, to Mingora.
"From Sihala to Mingora, we saw almost 10 t0 12 trucks completely damaged, and on the roadside almost 15 to 20 bombs, and roads were damaged," said Akbar. "And we saw some buildings damaged. We saw death and destruction."
Akbar also says he saw what he described as "human damage" in the town of Mingora, but added that local residents are relieved the battle is over.
"We talked to people that are in Mingora and most of the people are of the view that they are now feeling secure and almost all of Mingora city is cleared from [of] Taliban," he added.
With army troops deployed on the streets of Mingora, residents who hid in their homes as the battle unfolded are leaving the area because there is no electricity, food or water. After announcing its victory over the town, the Pakistani army promised to restore essential services as soon as possible.
Simon Schorno, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, says humanitarian agencies must be allowed into the conflict zone. He says the ICRC was one of the few organizations that have been able to get access to Swat Valley.
"Tens of thousands of people are still in Swat and their situation is extremely difficult with very limited access to water, food, electricity," said Schorno. "Shops are closed, banks are closed and hospitals are closed down. There is still fighting in North West Frontier Province. Now fighting is starting as in South Waziristan. And we still don't have a clear picture of the needs today."
With an exchange of fire Saturday night between militants and troops in South Waziristan, it appears the army is extending its campaign against Islamic extremists to the Federal Administered Tribal Areas.
But army officials refused to confirm to VOA that they were taking the fight to South Waziristan, where Taliban leader Baitullah Mesud is believed to be based.
A top associate of Mesud has vowed to stage attacks across the country to avenge the military campaign against militants in Swat Valley. On Monday, at least two people were killed when a bomb exploded at a crowded bus terminal in the northwestern town of Kohat. And last week, militants struck Lahore with a massive gun and bomb attack that Pakistani officials say killed at least 24 people. That was followed by another deadly attack at a popular market in Peshawar.