WANA/ ISLAMABAD/ JAMRUD:
North Waziristan Agency is about to witness the beginning of the end. The military launched the final phase of Operation Zarb-e-Azb on Wednesday after receiving the nod from army chief General Raheel Sharif. In this phase, the military will go after the terrorists still holed up in the strategic Shawal Valley of North Waziristan.
Shawal Valley, in Datta Khel tehsil, is situated on the confluence of borders between North and South Waziristan tribal regions. It also shares a border with neighbouring Afghanistan and thus offers a safe transit for terrorists.
Operation Zarb-e-Azb began on June 15, 2014 following a brazen terrorist attack on Karachi airport and the failure of peace talks between the government and the outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
Most areas of the erstwhile safe haven of homegrown and foreign militants have been purged. Tens of thousands of tribesmen displaced by fighting have started returning to their homes in the areas cleared by the military.
On Wednesday, army chief Gen Raheel Sharif visited troops in Shawal Valley where he was briefed by the operation commander on the gains made so far and the impending operation, according to the military’s media wing.
He was told that Shawal Valley and the area ahead of Datta Khel was the last bastion of terrorists left in North Waziristan, the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) said in a statement. The densely forested ravines of Shawal and Datta Khel have been used by terrorists for infiltration between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The army chief ordered immediate commencement of the last phase of Operation Zarb-e-Azb. Remnants of terrorists will be dislodged from their hideouts in the deeply forested ravines; they will be isolated and their links with their abettors anywhere in the country will be indiscriminately severed.
Gen Raheel expressed complete satisfaction over the gains and effects of the operations and acknowledged the resolve of troops to eliminate terrorists from their leftover sanctuary.
Speaking to the troops participating in the operation, the army chief commended their high morale and paid rich tributes to their resilience and sacrifice. Sacrifices of soldiers will not go to waste and we will achieve the ultimate goal of a terror-free Pakistan, he added.
Militant violence in Pakistan has dropped by around 70% due to a combination of military offensives against Taliban bases along the Pak-Afghan border in North Waziristan and Khyber agencies and government initiatives to tackle militancy.
Targeted air strikes against hideouts of terrorists continue in the tribal regions. On Wednesday, at least 21 militants were killed when warplanes strafed their bases in Tirah Valley which shares a border with the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar.
Security and administration officials claimed that three dens of terrorists were decimated in the air raids in Rajgaan, Khairabad and Gharibay areas. At least 21 militants were killed and six wounded in the air blitz, they added.
The claim could not be verified independently because the region is off-limit to the media. The air strikes came a day after 15 terrorists were killed in similar aerial bombardment in Shawal area of North Waziristan.
Separately, five paramilitary soldiers were wounded when their vehicle was targeted with a homemade bomb in the Tani area on Gomal Zam Road Wednesday morning.
Security officials said the injured FC troops were deployed to guard Dagai Pal Dam. They were driven to the Scouts Camp in Wana for treatment. Azam Tariq, the spokesman for TTP’s South Waziristan franchise, claimed responsibility for the attack.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 25th, 2016.
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