Pakistan: 43 civilians die in Taliban crossfire
By CNN's Zein Basravi
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- At least 43 civilians were killed Sunday when they were caught in the crossfire between Pakistani forces and Taliban militants, a Pakistani military official said.
The official, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said the incident happened in Charbagh, a district of Swat Valley in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province.
The mountainous Swat Valley region used to be a popular destination for tourists and skiers, but today it is a Taliban stronghold.
The Pakistani government and the army have come under criticism in recent weeks for allowing the security situation in Swat to deteriorate in the past few months. Islamabad has said there are plans for a new strategy to fight the Taliban, but they have yet to offer details.
The Taliban are imposing their strict brand of Islamic law in the region -- banning music, forbidding men from shaving, and not allowing teenage girls to attend school. Watch a report on civilians killed in crossfire »
Government officials say the Taliban have torched and destroyed more than 180 schools in the Swat region. Many families have fled the area, and have been followed by many Pakistani police officers who are too scared to take on Taliban forces, a Pakistani army spokesman told CNN last week.
The Taliban seized control of Afghanistan in 1996 -- harboring al Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden -- and ruled it until they were ousted from power in 2001 after the September 11 attacks on the United States. Since then, the Taliban have regrouped and are currently battling U.S. and NATO-led forces.
U.S. President Barack Obama has called Afghanistan the "central front" in the war on terror and has promised to make fighting extremism there, and in neighboring Pakistan, a foreign policy priority. He is expected to send as many as 30,000 additional U.S. troops to battle Taliban forces.
Richard Holbrooke, the administration's new envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, is scheduled to make his first trip to the region this week.
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