Pakistani refugees doubt army victory over Taliban

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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan | Pakistan’s claims that it has defeated the Taliban and regained control of the Swat Valley ring hollow for many of the 3 million refugees and others who fear the government is exaggerating its battlefield successes.

Despite claims by the military it had secured 90 percent of the territory in Swat that was previously under Taliban control, officials were forced to concede that every senior Taliban commander had escaped.

Further compounding the military’s woes, militants ambushed a convoy transporting two Taliban detainees near Swat on Saturday and killed the prisoners, thought to be aides to a cleric close to the Taliban leadership.

Military officials said they were killed either during an attempt to free them, or to silence them before questioning by intelligence officials.

“These two were being transported so that intelligence agencies could investigate them,” the Associated Press quoted military spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas as saying. “I wouldn’t rule out that they were targeted or killed on purpose.”

A roadside bomb and gunfire hit the convoy before dawn as it traveled from Sakhakot town near Swat to the main northwestern city of Peshawar, the army said. One soldier also died in the attack, and five were wounded.

The army identified the prisoners as Muhammad Maulana Alam and Ameer Izzat Khan, top aides to hard-line cleric Sufi Muhammad, who is the father-in-law of Maulana Fazlullah, the Taliban chief in Swat. They were detained in a raid near Swat on Thursday.

Later Saturday, a man wearing an explosives-laden jacket attacked a police compound in the capital, Islamabad, but was shot before he could enter the main building, the AP reported. Two officers died, and six other were wounded, police said.

No one claimed responsibility for the attack. The Taliban had threatened 10 days earlier that militants would launch strikes in major cities across Pakistan in retaliation for the military’s month-old offensive to oust the Taliban from the Swat Valley.

As the offensive in Swat failed to net any top Taliban leaders, the Pakistani government began offering rewards for anyone who captures, kills or provides information to locate the top 22 Taliban commanders in Swat.

The wanted include Fazlullah, who operates a pirate radio station espousing militant Islam and calling on people to overthrow the government.

An initial bounty of 5 million rupees, or about $60,000, was raised to $600,000.

Maj. Gen. Ijaz Awan led reporters on an army-sponsored tour of Mingora, the main city in Swat, in which he vowed that the army would hunt down Taliban leaders.

“Their death is vital to killing their myth,” he said.

His message came amid a taunting message, purportedly from Osama bin Laden, claiming the battle in Swat had been ordered by the U.S. and would only inspire more Muslim hatred of the U.S.

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