The noose around the neck of the terrorists is being tightened with the troops encircling the infested areas, effectively cutting off their escape routes, claimed the government here on Thursday.
Briefing a large group of senior media persons and CEOs of some media houses, the government, led by federal information minister Pervaiz Rashid, presented a progress report of the ‘strangulation’ phase of the operation launched last Saturday. He was accompanied by minister for SAFRON Lt.Gen (Retd) Abdul Qadir Baloch and Director General ISPR Major General Asim Saleem Bajwa.
Ground troops have not yet moved into the areas believed to be under control of the terrorists. They are being mauled with precision bombing avoiding populated areas in order to keep collateral damage to the minimum. A number of surrender points have been set up where the troops closely check and verify the claims. Troops have been sensitised for avoiding human rights violations. So far government troops have suffered 14 casualties including 8 shaheed.
The total population of North Waziristan has been estimated at 0.5 million. About 87 per cent of the area in North Waziristan which shares a border with Afghanistan is under the control of the troops.
The objective of the troops attacking the terrorists in their own sanctuaries is to smoke them out, arrest those who surrender, kill those who retaliate, chase out those who run, hold the area, rebuild it and then transfer it to the civilian administration. It was suggested that giving a deadline for the operation would not be prudent at this early stage.
The idea that the operation was being conducted in cooperation with the US was rejected but the possibility of co-ordination was not excluded in view of the fact that across the border, ISAF is overseeing security in Afghanistan and it was only logical for them to bottle up incoming terrorists from across the Durand Line.
In any case the drones, it was claimed, did not help much as they killed only six or seven terrorists in one sortie whereas the government’s precision bombing was causing greater damage to the terrorists.
The government also claimed that it was fully aware of the dangers and risks of blowback in cities and was in the process of isolating sleeper cells and rendering them ineffective.
The number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) is said to have reached over 65,000. Each IDP family is given Rs5,000 for the purchase of utensils and another Rs12,000 as sustenance allowance. Many of these IDPs have made private arrangements to stay with friends or relatives. Those who wish to avail government facilities are being provided with tents (700), electricity (25KV), mini-hospitals (six) and polio vaccines.
Representatives of the FATA Disaster Management Authority (FDMA), Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA), the FATA secretariat, the army and inter-agency personnel have been deputed in camps to monitor the IDPs twice a day. After the operation, the IDPs will receive monetary assistance for the reconstruction of their homes. As many as 2,600 vehicles have been arranged to transport IDPs from their place of residence to the tent villages near Bannu.
The ISPR chief did not refute reports of some families crossing over to Afghanistan but said some had family relations there and others returned to Pakistan via Kurram agency.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 20th, 2014.
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