Flood relief efforts force Pakistan Army to alter plans against terrorists

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Kalam, Sept 14 (ANI): Pakistani military officials have said that the flood relief effort undertaken by the country's armed forces have forced the army to alter plans to combat Taliban and Al Qaeda militants, extending the stay of troops fighting militants in the Swat valley by six months.

Elsewhere, some planned offensive actions had been converted to defensive actions in a bid to consolidate gains already achieved, the New York Times quoted military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas, as saying on the telephone.

"In some places where the army was on offensive operations, they have taken defensive positions," he said.

The Pakistani military had already delayed operations against North Waziristan, the central hub of militancy and Al Qaeda, because it said its forces were overextended.

While the changes do not seem to involve any major cutback in the nation's counterinsurgency strategy, they are the first sign of the strain that floods have put on Pakistan's armed forces, overstretched in dealing with a virulent insurgency, the paper said.

Though the military insisted that not many of the 147,000 troops deployed in the northwestern region had been diverted by the floods and that ongoing operations against terrorists in the border region with Afghanistan were not affected, General Abbas conceded that the floods had disrupted communications and supply lines for the army as well as the civilian population in places like the Swat Valley, and have forced the army to divert helicopters to relief efforts.

"It has drawn the army's attention for different reasons," he said.

The army had been planning to scale down military operations and hand over policing to a strengthened police force by October, but after the floods, the plans had been postponed by at least six months until next spring or summer, the paper quoted Colonel Nadeem Anwar, deputy commander of the army brigade deployed in the Swat Valley, as saying.

The Swat Valley was one of the first regions in Pakistan to be hit by flooding and also among the worst hit. The valley has been largely cleared of militants after two years of military campaign, yet militants keep seeking to slip back into the valley and make a show of their presence. (ANI)

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