ISLAMABAD: After purging Miramshah, the headquarters of North Waziristan Agency, of militants, the security forces have launched a ground offensive in Mirali, the second key stronghold of militants.
The chief military spokesperson said troops stormed into Mirali on Monday, triggering a gunfight in which three soldiers and seven militants were killed. A military statement added that the gunfight took place when the troops were clearing the area of Fateh Khel near Mirali Town. “The bodies of the terrorists are in the custody of the security forces,” it added.
Another two soldiers, including Capt Akash Rabbani, were killed in a seperate firefight with terrorists in and around Mirali. Four terrorists were also killed in the shoot-out, bringing their total fatalities on Tuesday to 11.
“Our forces launched the ground operation against terrorists in Mirali on Monday, and they are facing resistance,” Maj-Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa, the director general of the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), told senior journalists during a briefing on Operation Zarb-e-Azb in Lahore.
He added that the military had cleared Miramshah of militants, killing 447 of them while losing 26 soldiers there since the start of the operation on June 15. “Eighty-eight hideouts have been cleared, while 32 terrorists have also surrendered to the security forces,” he said.
Maj-Gen Bajwa said that key Taliban commander Matiullah was killed in open combat. The identity of other dead terrorists is being ascertained. He added that troops have captured a public call office in Miramshah from where the terrorists used to make calls for ransom and claim responsibility for terrorist attacks.
He said the Taliban leadership was using the Afghan provinces of Nuristan, Kunar and Paktika as a springboard for launching attacks in Pakistan. Neither the Afghan government nor the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) was cooperating with Islamabad, he added. He also said that the possibility of Indian involvement in Waziristan could not be precluded.
Maj-Gen Bajwa didn’t rule out that some terrorists might have fled before the launch of operation. However, he made it clear that no terrorists could flee after the troops moved into the volatile region as the entire agency has been sealed.
“Several new checkpoints have been established. Now no one can enter or exit the agency without proper vetting,” he said, adding that the security forces would never allow militants to return to North Waziristan.
The military spokesperson said that Operation Zarb-e-Azb was targeted against all terrorists – homegrown and foreigners. “There is no discrimination of good Taliban and bad Taliban. These terms have become archaic,” he said, adding that the writ of the state would be established in the troubled region at all costs.
The operation has been ongoing for a month. But Maj-Gen Bajwa refused to give a timeframe for its completion. “We will achieve our objectives in the shortest possible time,” he said and held out an assurance that the operation would be completed before the yearend.
He said that terrorists used to brainwash and indoctrinate young fighters before sending them on suicide missions in different parts of the country. “At least 195 innocent people have been killed in terrorist attacks between January and June 2014,” he added.
He reiterated Pakistan Army’s resolve to root out terrorists from the country without any discrimination and voiced hope that security forces would live up to the expectations of the people through Operation Zarb-e-Azb.
The military spokesperson also disclosed that a security operation was simultaneously under way against terrorists in the Kokikhel area of Khyber Agency which borders the Tora Bora area of Afghanistan.
Maj Gen Bajwa said that inaccuracies in the registration of tens of thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Waziristan could not be ruled out. The total population of North Waziristan was much less than the number of IDPs registered thus far, he said, adding that this must be investigated.
Political parties and charities are collecting relief goods for the IDPs – but the military spokesperson said that proscribed organisations and outfits would not be allowed to raise funds in the name of helping the IDPs.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 16th, 2014.
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