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Taliban pulling back in Pakistan after latest attack

PESHAWAR, Pakistan – Taliban militants packed up their grenade launchers Friday and vacated a district they overran outside the country’s capital last week. The move did little, however, to quell the alarm of the U.S. and Western allies.

U.S. officials are concerned that Pakistan is unable or unwilling to forcefully deal with militants slowly expanding into the heart of the country from lawless areas close to the Afghan border.

The retreat from Buner, just 60 miles from Islamabad, came after talks between the militants and authorities, who had threatened to attack them and reconsider the peace agreement in the adjoining Swat Valley region that critics say has given Taliban and al-Qaida-linked militants a safe haven.

Witnesses said scores of militants had effectively taken control of Buner since the government formally agreed to the peace deal early this month. Critics said the advance was evidence Islamabad was wrong in talking with the insurgents.

Syed Mohammed Javed, the top government administrator in the region, said a hard-line cleric who helped mediate the peace deal persuaded the Taliban to return to Swat Valley in a meeting Friday.

The retreat came a day after Taliban fighters opened fire on a few hundred lightly armed paramilitary troops sent to Buner, killing a police officer. Ikram Sehgal, a military analyst, said while attempts to insert the paramilitaries was a “fiasco,” the Taliban likely feared that a full-blown army operation might follow.

“Buner is basically a one-road valley that would have been easy to seal. It was a tactical retreat,” Sehgal said.

The Taliban’s advance into Buner triggered unusually strong condemnation from the United States, where lawmakers are considering a deal that would grant Pakistan $1.5 million in aid each year to battle terrorism.

TV images showed dozens of militants emerging on Friday from a high-walled villa that served as their headquarters in Buner, a rural area in the foothills of the Karakoram mountains. The men, most of them masked with black scarves and carrying automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades, clambered into several pickup trucks and minibuses before driving away.

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