Taliban militants stare at defeat in Swat Valley

ISLAMABAD: Taliban militants will not attack the military in the main town of Pakistan’s Swat Valley to avoid triggering battles that would result in civilian casualties and destruction, a militant spokesman said.

The army today hailed the announcement as a sign that the outnumbered militants were “staring defeat in the face,” but Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan denied it was a call for a cease-fire and said the insurgents were not withdrawing from Mingora.

“This is a long war and we will fight it strategically,” he told The Associated Press yesterday from an undisclosed location in the Valley. “We will continue fighting until an Islamic system is enforced.” Pakistan began the offensive last month against militants in the northwestern region after they ignored the terms of a cease-fire.

Its Western allies, worried the nuclear-armed nation was buckling under the threat of the militants, have hailed the operation.

Close to 1.9 million people have fled the valley and surrounding districts, but up to 20,000 remain in

Mingora, where the military entered on Saturday after encircling it.