MIRANSHAH: At least 34 militants and three army soldiers were killed in fresh air strikes and gunfights in the troubled North Waziristan Agency where the military claims to have cleansed 90% of the area of militants in the ongoing operation, Zarb-e-Azb.
“Twenty-seven terrorists, including some of their important commanders and foreigners, were killed in precise aerial strikes in the Dattakhel area [on Sunday],” the military’s media wing, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), said in a statement. Tribal sources confirmed the fatalities, saying that close aides of militant commander Hafiz Gul Bahadur were also among them.
The air raid came hours after a deadly attack on the security forces in the Spaira Ghar area of Dattakhel, near the border with Afghanistan. Three troops – including a major and a JCO – were killed and 10 wounded in the gunfight triggered by the attack, security officials said. In the subsequent search operation, seven terrorists were also killed, they added. The injured servicemen were airlifted to military hospitals in Bannu and Miramshah garrisons where some of them were listed as critical.
Ahmadullah Ahmadi, the spokesman for the Hafiz Gul Bahadur-led Shura-i-Mujahideen North Waziristan, claimed responsibility for the deadly attack on the security forces in a phone call to the media.
He said the militants ambushed a security patrol in the Spaira Ghar area Saturday evening. A gunfight ensued that continued for around six hours, he said and claimed that they inflicted heavy casualties on the security forces. The claim, however, could not be verified independently as journalists are not allowed access to the region. The militants usually exaggerate the military casualties.
Dattakhel was the stronghold of Gul Bahadur, who used to be known as the host of the Haqqani Network, the deadliest of all Afghan Taliban factions. His group also had a strong presence in the mountainous Shawal area. Operation Zarb-e-Azb is indiscriminate as the chief military spokesman had said that Gul Bahadur and his men would not be spared.
Gul Bahadur had first warned the government against launching the operation. However, when the military offensive started, he and his fighters disappeared, triggering speculation that they have moved to their new sanctuaries across the border in Afghanistan. It was the first-ever media contact of Gul Bahadur’s spokesman since the launch of Operation Zarb-e-Azb on June 15. “In retaliation, we launched our resistance, codenamed Zarb-i-Momin four or five days back.
The fresh fighting came a day after General Officer Commanding Maj-Gen Zafar Ullah claimed that the security forces have cleared 2,708 square kilometres area, or around 90% of the agency. “As many as 1,198 militants were killed and 356 injured so far in the operation,” he told a select group of television journalists at Mirali, the main town of North Waziristan.
Around 600,000 tribesmen have been displaced from North Waziristan as a result of Operation Zarb-e-Azb who have been living in IDPs camps in Bannu and Peshawar and elsewhere in the country.
There is no indication regarding the timeframe for completion of the operation. During the recent corps commanders’ meeting, army chief General Raheel Sharif called for the early return of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) to their homes. However, given the destruction caused by the operation, it would take some time when Waziristan tribesmen would be able to resettle.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 17th, 2014.