BUNER VALLEY, Pakistan – Taliban militants kidnapped 10 Pakistani paramilitaries in an attack on their headquarters on Friday as Islamic militants fought back against an army offensive in the troubled northwest.
More than 50 militants stormed the paramilitary headquarters in Upper Dir district of Malakand region, where the Pakistan military is battling to evict the Taliban from Buner, a strategic valley about 100 km (60 miles) from Islamabad, a senior government official said.
Both Upper Dir and Buner are part of Malakand, though they do not share a border.
We are using all means to safely recover (the paramilitaries). We have engaged tribal elders for this purpose, Atif-ur-Rehman, chief administrator of Upper Dir, told Reuters.
Pakistani forces have been battling militants through mountain passes around Buner for the past four days.
The Taliban's entry into Buner this month from their nearby stronghold of Swat valley unnerved many Pakistanis and raised fears in Washington that the nuclear-armed nation vital to its efforts to defeat al Qaeda and stabilize Afghanistan was itself becoming unstable.
TERRROIST ATTACKS SOAR
The State Department said on Thursday the number of people killed in terrorist attacks in Pakistan last year rose by more than 70 percent, despite an overall drop in such violence worldwide.
President Barack Obama on Wednesday praised the Pakistani army's new resolve to fight militants and said it had begun to realize that homegrown militants posed a bigger current threat to the Muslim nation's stability than old rival India.
A U.S. official said on Thursday the United States and Pakistan will likely discuss stepping up U.S. training for Pakistani security forces when President Asif Ali Zardari visits Washington next week.
Zardari and Afghan President Hamid Karzai will meet separately with Obama and then have three-way talks during visits to the White House on May 6 and May 7.
U.S. lawmakers are likely to consider this month giving more than $400 million to train and equip the Pakistani military in counter-insurgency tactics, which U.S. officials say are vital to Islamabad's ability to defeat militants.
A top al Qaeda commander in a message that appeared on Islamist websites on Thursday urged Pakistanis to rise up against their government,
Muslims in Pakistan, and especially their clerics, should prepare themselves and rise up to perform the duty ... of fighting the Pakistani army and the rest of the apparatus that are the pillars of their tyrannical state, Aby Yahya al-Libi, who is thought to be in Afghanistan and Pakistan, said in an article dated mid-March.
EXODUS FROM VALLEY
Pakistani government troops have secured the main town of Buner but militants were still controlling parts of the valley.
Military officials say troops were securing the valley at a slower pace to avoid civilian losses.
Pakistani troops used helicopter gunships and artillery to target militant hideouts in Buner. Hundreds of families were seen streaming out of the valley, their vehicles laden with belongings, including cattle.
Military spokesman Major-General Athar Abbas on Thursday warned Taliban in Swat for failing to keep their side of the bargain after the government accepted demands to establish Islamic sharia courts across the Malakand, which includes Swat, Buner and several other districts.
U.S. officials have urged Pakistan to follow through on this week's offensives in Dir and Buner rather than let the enemy regroup. Speculation was mounting that once the army has secured Buner it will turn its attention to Swat.