Pakistan's PM Vows to 'Eliminate' Taliban

Yusuf Raza Gilani says military operation will rid region of terrorists.

ByABC News
May 7, 2009, 4:31 PM

May 7, 2009— -- ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Pakistan's Prime Minister used a late-night, nationally televised address to officially announce a military operation to "eliminate" the Taliban in the country's volatile northwest, where the largest human exodus in South Asia since the partition of India and Pakistan continued for the twelfth straight day.

The speech by Yusuf Raza Gilani confirmed a military operation that had already begun in the Swat Valley, the headquarters of the local Taliban where the army has twice failed to dislodge well-armed and well-funded militants.

Military sources tell ABC News that they have received orders to" eliminate terrorist once and for all."

The army is moving in "pincer formation from Buner and narrowing it down to the narrow valleys of Swat," the military official said, describing a move from a district south of Swat up into the valley. At the same time, the official said, the military has intercepted Taliban communications urging militants to move into populated areas, seemingly to use residents as human shields.

Military jets and gunship helicopters have started pounding militant positions in Swat, military officials and residents say.

The fighting in Swat is an extension of fighting across the Northwest Frontier Province that has forced up to a million residents to flee their homes, according to the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

Residents from the area say they have been held hostage by a Taliban that has spread and brought their brand of justice with them, whipping women in the streets and beheading security forces who oppose them. Some of the residents are fleeing as far as Karachi, the southern port city, but most cannot afford to go farther than Swabi and Mardan, two districts between Swat and Islamabad where there is no fighting.

"Distance that we used to cover in 15 minutes today took us three hours" Gul Zaman told ABC News by phone as he fled the area.

The exodus of residents threatens to turn into a humanitarian crisis. The provincial government admits it does not have enough money to build adequate camps, and officials with the UN's refugee agency admit any camp they would set up would take months.