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Wounded Pakistan soldiers recall stiff resistance

Pakistan says more than 1,050 militants and 58 soldiers have been killed, but Taliban spokesmen speaking to local media heavily contradict those claims. Neither have authorities released any word on civilian casualties. Wounded soldiers who spoke to AFP said they were willing to lay down their lives for what commanders have declared a fight to "eliminate" militants.
by Staff Writers
Rawalpindi, Pakistan (AFP) May 21, 2009
"They used to attack early in the morning or after dark. They would always go for an ambush," said Lieutenant Zaigham, wounded in battle with the Taliban and lying in a Pakistani hospital.

Zaigham -- who did not give his full name -- sustained shrapnel wounds from fierce street fighting in the Swat valley and is a patient at the Combined Military Hospital in Rawalpindi, away from the combat in the northwest.

Lying in bed with bandaged wounds, he and fellow soldiers spoke of intense battles against heavily-armed insurgents, who put up stiff resistance and are often able to outflank Pakistan's well-equipped and motivated soldiers.

Pakistan has declared the combat area a closed military zone, sealed off to journalists and aid workers. It is impossible to corroborate information coming from behind the frontlines from either soldiers or trapped civilians.

From May 4 to May 17, when Zaigham was wounded, his unit advanced slowly from Khwazakhela in northern Swat to the nearby town of Matta, which has long been under Taliban control.

"There were strong resistance during the entire journey but we managed to clear the area. They buried mines and planted IEDs (improvised explosive devices) every 50 metres," he said.

"There were checkpoints, bases and training centres in the mountains. We were clearing and destroying all this.

"They positioned snipers in holes made out of the walls of houses. They used civilians as human shields. They used to attack from houses and roofs.

"They are well equipped, They have mortars. They have rockets, sniper rifles and every type of sophisticated weapons," said Zaigham.

"I am certain that foreign elements are behind these militants. Can I ask something very simple -- who are their sponsors? What their sources of funding? Who runs their logistics?" he said.

Residents trapped by the fighting in Swat have also said the Taliban dug trenches and were well armed. US-based Human Rights Watch has accused the Taliban of using "human shields" by preventing civilians from leaving.

Zaigham was wounded when a rocket shell exploded in Matta and shards of shrapnel sliced into his shoulder and leg. He needs constant care.

"Some of my colleagues embraced shahadat (martyrdom) in this fight and some were wounded, but we forced the militants to retreat," he said.

Pakistan says more than 1,050 militants and 58 soldiers have been killed, but Taliban spokesmen speaking to local media heavily contradict those claims. Neither have authorities released any word on civilian casualties.

Wounded soldiers who spoke to AFP said they were willing to lay down their lives for what commanders have declared a fight to "eliminate" militants.

Soldier Haseeb Ahsan, 26, was among those flown into Peochar, in northern Swat last week in a bid to open a new front and wrest back control of a Taliban bastion and alleged stronghold of Swat Taliban commander Maulana Fazlullah.

The airborne troops admitted they came under heavy fire.

"We landed in the jungle. Militants ambushed our group. I received two bullets in my right thigh, but I kept on firing" he said.

"My wish was to die in the way of Allah and for my country. I will definitely go back and hit them hard," he said.

One of the younger soldiers, Mohammad Asif, 18, was he was wounded last week in Swat's main town of Mingora, where the Taliban are still in full control.

"It was midnight. I was standing in front of my trench, when I was shot. They always attack secretly. I wanted to tell them 'don't attack like jackals, attack like men'," he said.

"When I was hit, I returned fire and they ran away. I want to go back, I wish I could become a martyr for my country" he said.

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