PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistani doctors successfully removed a bullet Wednesday from the neck of a 14-year-old girl who was shot by the Taliban for speaking out in support of education for women, a government minister said.
A team of army and civilian surgeons have been treating Malala Yousufzai in a military hospital in Peshawar where she was airlifted after the Tuesday shooting in her hometown of Mingora in the country's volatile Swat Valley.
The operation to remove the bullet took hours because there were complications, said the information minister in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Mian Iftikhar Hussain.
"She is improving. But she is still unconscious," he said. "I can't say a final word about her condition. A board of doctors is constantly examining her condition."
Hussain said there was no decision yet whether the girl needed to be taken abroad for further treatment.
Malala is admired across Pakistan for exposing the Taliban's atrocities and advocating for girls' education in the face of religious extremism. On Tuesday, a Taliban gunman walked up to a bus taking children home from school and shot her in the head and neck. Another girl on the bus was also wounded.
The country's army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, visited the hospital to get a first-hand account of her condition, the military said in a statement.
"In attacking Malala, the terrorist have failed to grasp that she is not only an individual, but an icon of courage and hope who vindicates the great sacrifices that the people of Swat and the nation gave, for wresting the valley from the scourge of terrorism," Kayani said in the statement.
He also vowed that the military would not bow to terrorists like those who shot the young activist.
"We will fight, regardless of the cost we will prevail," he said.
The strongly-worded statement was extremely rare for the reticent Kayani and a sign of how strongly Malala's shooting has affected Pakistanis across the religious, political and ethnic spectrum.
Malala began writing a blog when she was just 11 under the pseudonym Gul Makai for the BBC about life under the Taliban, and began speaking out publicly in 2009 about the need for girls' education. The Taliban strongly opposes education for women, and the group has claimed responsibility for the Tuesday attack.
Private schools in the Swat Valley were closed Wednesday in a sign of protest over the shooting and in solidarity with Malala, said Ahmed Shah, the chairman of an association of private schools.
At one time the picturesque Swat Valley — nicknamed the Switzerland of Pakistan — was a popular tourist destination for Pakistanis. Honeymooners vacationed along the river running through the valley.
Then the Taliban in 2007 began infiltrating the valley just 280 kilometers (175 miles) from the capital, eventually assuming near-total control of the region before being ejected in a massive Pakistani military operation.
The takeover, as well as the Taliban's brutal treatment of civilians in the region, shocked many Pakistanis, who considered militancy to be a far-away problem in Afghanistan or Pakistan's rugged tribal regions.
But Tuesday's attacked demonstrated that the Taliban have not been eradicated from the valley and are trying to make their presence felt even three years after the offensive to oust them.
Malala was nominated last year for the International Children's Peace Prize, which is organized by the Dutch organization KidsRights to highlight the work of children around the world. She also was honored last year with one of Pakistan's highest awards for civilians for her bravery.
Associated Press writer Sherid Zada in Mingora contributed to this report.