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November 17, 2007
Pakistani Army Readies Assault on Extremists
More than 15,000 Pakistani troops are poised to assault Islamic extremists in the Swat Valley according to the Associated Press:
The army said Saturday that troops backed by helicopter gunships and artillery were attacking militants to push them back into the mountains overlooking the Karakoram Highway, Pakistan's vital overland route to China. This is exactly what the Bush Administration had been urging Musharraf to do although it isn't clear whether he is willing to destroy them or simply push them back into the mountainous Northwest Frontier where the militants can still raid almost at will against Americans in Afghanistan.
Between 35 and 40 rebels were killed in that push on Friday, it said in a statement. That raised the number of militants killed this week to over 100, according to army reports.
A police official said some civilians had died after shells struck their homes. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not allowed to address the media, but gave no further details. Sirajuddin, a Fazlullah spokesman who goes by one name, confirmed that the military had intensified attacks but said his forces had suffered only "some" casualties.
"Our mujahedeen are still in a strong position, and God willing we will defeat the enemy," he told AP by telephone. He accused the army of killing civilians by shelling residential areas.
With most of the country uniting against him as long as he insists on keeping the state of emergency, Musharraf and the army must prove that he is serious about fighting the militants - not only to save Pakistan but also to continue the support from Washington he needs to maintain some legitimacy.
Musharraf's hold on power continues to be tenuous. Taking on the militants may be one way to strengthen his position.