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Pakistani refugees escape Army offensive – and Taliban rule

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As the counterstrike neared its second week, the military claimed it had killed some 700 Taliban fighters. Trucks filled with infantry moved to the front on Sunday. Boots on the ground will be needed to go house by house to clear the area of militants, says Mr. Masood.

Meanwhile, displaced people poured into new refugee camps and private homes of acquaintances in nearby towns like Mardan. The UN estimates that some 360,600 refugees have fled Swat and neighboring Buner and Dir Districts since the offensive began last week.

Over the weekend, the main camp in Mardan had swelled to hold more than 6,000 people, according to residents. The grassy field beside some railroad tracks still had room or hundreds more tents, but dozens of angry men waited in line to be processed Saturday, saying hardly any new arrivals were getting checked in or given ration cards. Those already in the camp, though, received an orderly distribution of tea, bread, and soup, and there did not appear to be major shortages.

The two hospitals in Mardan are treating victims of shelling – mostly children like Pakhtoon – but are not yet overwhelmed. That reflects the difficulty of getting the wounded out, according to an ambulance driver who said they could not get anywhere near the front.

According to one refugee who fled with his family from Mingora, Swat's capital, many were left behind. "We never thought there would be so many people dead, and there was nobody to pick them up and put them in a grave," says Adnan Babar.

Doctors at the Mardan hospitals are bracing for more. "In the coming days and weeks it is not possible it will get better – it will get worse. The operation just started in Swat so people will come from that area," says Dr. Shahid Durrani at the main public hospital.

Not only was there concern about the counteroffensive getting more bloody, but of the Taliban regrouping and striking here. The private hospital across town has enlisted undercover police.

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