GUY RAZ, host:
In Pakistan, the army is pressing ahead in its offensive against the Taliban in the Swat Valley and nearby. The military says most of the militants have been eliminated from the area.
NPR's Julie McCarthy has been traveling with the Pakistani Army; and as she discovered in the embattled district of Buner, a sense of insecurity still prevails.
JULIE McCARTHY: The quiet of Buner is striking, especially on a Friday. There's no muezzin calling the faithful to prayer. Mosques, usually overflowing with the faithful, are empty. Some of the white-washed places of worship bear the bullet holes of the two-month campaign. The fighting to oust Taliban militants from this district of panoramic vistas and bucolic valleys sent the population fleeing for their lives.
With the conflict easing, residents have begun to trickle back, maneuvering mountain roads littered with the scorched carcasses of vehicles destroyed in the battle.
The army escorting a convoy of officials and journalists passes a teenager on the road hoisting a white flag. You see them flying from the houses of Buner, not a signal of surrender but a sign to convey that no combatants are there.
Fears of the Taliban returning, and the army resuming its shelling, grip the population. But the fear is baseless, according to Frontier Corps Commander Colonel Naseer Janjua. From his headquarters in the main town of Daggar, he says government forces are in control.
Colonel NASEER JANJUA (Commander, Frontier Corps): And the operation is almost over. Now we are in a support role of the civil administration, so that their machinery can function, and they can take control of all the things. Normalcy in this area is going to return very, very soon.
McCARTHY: Janjua says the only thing preventing residents from coming home is a lack of electricity. But even the heavily armed security personnel accompanying us wear the worried looks of men not quite sure that the militants have been eliminated from the area. They are especially alert as we enter the village of Sultanwas, the scene of heavy fighting, where the acrid smell of a burnt-out government tank still lingers.
The military fans out around us. We're standing next to the destruction. It looks like an earthquake has upended this place. It's just been a place of fierce battle to flush the Taliban from what was their headquarters here in Sultanwas.
The army claims to have secured Buner; the challenge now is to hold it. Authorities say police are patrolling, but to drive the length of the district reveals that there is virtually no checking of anyone going in or out of Buner, and resident Shabar Khan(ph), who remained through the fighting, is worried.
Mr. SHABAR KHAN: (Foreign language Spoken)
McCARTHY: We're secure as long as the government is here with the army in the background. But Khan says the police are too weak to restrain the Taliban if they come back.
Colonel Janjua says of the estimated 1,000 Taliban fighters in Buner, troops have killed about half that number, but with the operation effectively over, the question is: Where have the rest of the militants gone?
Julie McCarthy, NPR News.
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