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Pakistan savors takeover of base

Taliban stronghold taken on strategic ridge reflects the progress of army offensive.

Pakistani soldiers hold an alleged Taliban militant at a military base in Khwazakhela, Pakistan.

AP photo

BANAI BABA ZIARAT, Pakistan — A Pakistani flag now flies over army troops dug in on a strategic ridge that until two days ago was held by the Taliban, a base where militants trained fighters, built tunnels and equipped caves with electricity and air vents.

The takeover of the highest Taliban stronghold in the Swat Valley by troops who stormed up its jagged, rubble-strewn slopes is evidence of the success of Pakistan’s month-old army offensive. The action has been welcomed by the United States, which fears the nuclear-armed country is capitulating to the militants.

But much of the region still remains in the hands of the militants, including Buner — a district just 60 miles from the capital Islamabad and the focus of intense air and ground operations in recent weeks, according to witnesses and police officers who spoke to an Associated Press reporter in its main town Friday.

Several residents pointed to the mountains and warned that the Taliban were not far away.

Police were still too frightened to enter parts of Buner and the nearby town of Dagar, which the military said was “liberated” from the Taliban.

“We’ve been destroyed by the Taliban,” said Ayub Khan, as army trucks moved past a ruined market and a charred gas station where a suicide bomber had killed four soldiers in the early days of the battle.

The Obama administration has declared eliminating militant havens in Pakistan vital to its goals of defeating al-Qaida and winning the war in neighboring Afghanistan. U.S military officers say insurgents use Pakistan as a base to launch attacks over the frontier in Afghanistan.

But Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Schloesser, the top U.S. general in eastern Afghanistan, said there was evidence that insurgents were crossing into Pakistan.

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