Desperation in Pakistani hospitals, refugee camps
The Associated Press
MINGORA, Pakistan — Civilians cowered in hospital beds on Saturday and refugees looted U.N. supplies — all of them desperate for relief from the fighting that has engulfed a northwestern valley as troops and warplanes try to drive out Taliban militants.
The prime minister, directing millions of dollars to help the residents of a region where backing for the central government has sometimes been tenuous, described the offensive launched this week as a "war of the country's survival" but said the military alone could not be victorious in the Swat Valley.
The army "can only be successful if there is support of the masses," Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, who authorized the Swat offensive on Thursday, told a news conference after an emergency Cabinet meeting.
Further south, a suspected U.S. missile strike killed nine people, mostly foreigners, in another militant stronghold near the Afghan border, officials said. The identities of the victims were not immediately unclear.
Ghafar Khan, who was injured by shell fragments during fighting in Pakistan's northwest Buner district a month ago, cries in a hospital in Mardan, Pakistan, Saturday, May 9, 2009. Ghafar, and his brother Akhter Ali Khan, right, were brought to Mardan by their parents in recent days as fighting intensified in Pakistan's latest offensive against Taliban militants. (AP Photo/Greg Baker)
The army said it killed as many as 55 more Taliban fighters in Swat on Saturday.
Encouraged by the United States, Pakistan's leaders launched the full-scale offensive this week to halt the spread of Taliban control in districts within 60 miles (100 kilometers) of the capital. Pakistan's army is fighting to wrest Swat and neighboring districts from militants who dominate the adjoining tribal belt along the Afghan frontier, where U.S. officials say al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden is likely holed up.
But the fighting has caused the flight of hundreds of thousands of terrified residents, adding a humanitarian emergency to the nuclear-armed nation's security, economic and political problems. The government is appealing for international aid to ease the plight of the multitude of weary, traumatized people who have abandoned their homes in search of safety.
Witness accounts indicated that scores of civilians have already been killed or injured in the escalating clashes in Swat and the neighboring Buner and Lower Dir districts.
"For now, the US is keeping its forces on the Afghanistan side of the border..."