Thousands of refugees are feared to be caught up in the fighting as Pakistan steps up its assault on Taleban militants in the Swat Valley. The small town of Mingora is typical – all but abandoned as people try to flee. 200,000 people are thought to have escaped, but as many more are feared to be trapped by the fighting.“Mortar shells have hit houses and people are terrified,” said Mingora resident Arshad Khan. “Everyone wants to get out, but we don’t know where to go. There is no transport, and the army has imposed a curfew.” Encouraged by the United States, Pakistan’s army has been ordered to eliminate the Taleban, whose influence had advanced to just 100 kms from Islamabad. The assault appears timed to coincide with President Zardari’s current visit to Washington. He told American television that his country needs more money and military equipment if it is to defeat the Taleban. The battle is seen as vital for stability in nuclear-armed Pakistan and for ending the insurgency in neighbouring Afghanistan.