AHMAD NABI & ASIF BASHIR CHAUDHRY
KHYBER AGENCY/ISLAMABAD - The security forces killed 10 militants of banned Lashkar-e-Islam (LI) and injured 10 of them in fresh military offensive initiated on Friday here in Aka Khel, Sipah and Malikdin Khel areas of Bara tehsil, Tirah Valley, and also claimed to have captured important mountain tops in Aka Khel tribal area in Tirah .
The government and the army decided to begin this operation with the name of “Khyber One” after the LI militants escalated their nefarious activities in the settled areas, challenging the government authority. The troops were supported by artillery and tanks’ units and targeted sanctuaries of militants to achieve the goal of clearing the area of them. All exit and entry points of Bara have been closed and curfew has been imposed to restrict movements of the suspected militants in the area, the sources said.
Prior to it, hundreds of families started evacuating the Aka Khel area in Tirah to avoid collateral damages in the operation , local sources said, adding the affected families had started moving out of the area through Meshti and Sangra areas of Orakzai to come to down town. The administration sources said the operation was targeted and would be accomplished soon.
At least 30 suspected militants were reportedly killed in the ongoing military offensive in Aka Khel Tirah Valley and many centres of LI were also demolished in Bara, the sources revealed.
Meanwhile, Khyber Political Agent Shahab Ali Shah convened a tribal elders’ jirga in Khyber House Peshawar to take them into confidence regarding the operation to clear the area of the militants , the administration sources said. The Khyber political agent made it clear to jirga that all preparations had been finalised to complete the targeted operation to establish durable peace and writ of the government in Bara as well as other parts of Khyber Agency. The jirga in Khyber House was also reportedly attended by Senator Haji Khan and MNA Nasir Khan Afridi.
It is worth mentioning here that the first large-scale operation began on 1st September in 2009 with the names of Darghlam, Bia Darghlam and Khwakh Ba de Sham.
The security forces also gained control of the border check post. Curfew has been imposed in the area and people are not being allowed to either enter or leave Bara. Senior security sources said this was the first wave of a fresh offensive launched to clear Bara tehsil.
The security forces continued the operation to gain control of the Shahkot check post. Intensifying their efforts to counter militants in Khyber , the forces have upped action in the region.
Sources said the main aim of the operation was to clear Khyber Agency from Bara to the border of Tirah valley, following which the second phase of the operation would begin.
Security forces have also blocked all routes leading to Bara and have surrounded its Malikdinkhel, Akakhel and Sipah areas. Scores of families have started moving to safer places as the offensive against militant groups is intensifying.
Khyber is among Pakistan’s seven semi-autonomous tribal districts near the Afghan border, rife with home-grown insurgents and foreign militants . These are also home to religious extremist organizations, including al-Qaeda.
The plains of Bara hold strategic significance for militant groups as they connect the agency to the outskirts of Peshawar. The area was being used by militants to put pressure on the provincial capital. In the recent weeks, police and military posts in and around Peshawar have come under attack. Khyber also links several agencies to each other, serving as a north-south route within Fata.
Reuters adds from Peshawar: A military source said some insurgents were believed to have slipped away and escaped towards the Afghan border. “We are chasing them and our forces advanced and took control of the areas which remained in the control of the terrorists for the past many years,” said the security official.
This week’s fighting concentrated on the remote Tirah Valley in Khyber , where militants and their al-Qaeda backers from across the mountainous area have been holed up since the start of the operation in North Waziristan. On Thursday, fighter jets pounded suspected hideouts in the valley, killing at least 21 insurgents.
Pakistan has been plagued by Islamist violence since it threw its support behind the US-led campaign against militancy launched after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.