PESHAWAR - At least 25 militants, both local and foreigners, were killed after fighter jets on the third day of the operation against militants pounded their hideouts in North Waziristan Agency on Tuesday.
According to a military official close to the operation, the ground offensive will start in the next week.
The ISPR, media wing of the Army, said that jet aircraft conducted air strikes on militant positions early in the morning.
Subsequently six terrorist hideouts including a training camp and an IED factory near Hasokhel area were destroyed completely.
Not only this, at least 25 militants were also killed, it added. The statement further said that the ongoing operation which has been started on Sunday last in North Waziristan Agency is progressing as per plan.
It said that the cordon around all terrorist hideouts including in the town of Mirali and Miranshah has been further tightened and reinforced.
Three terrorists were killed, when they were trying to flee from the cordoned off Miranshah. During the exchange of firing, one soldier also got injured.
The ISPR statement further said that no operation in built-up areas has been started so far to ensure that no terrorist can escape the cordon. Besides, all innocent civil population is safely evacuated after their detailed verification.
Moreover, necessary logistics and administrative arrangements for IDPs have been made by Political Administration and Disaster Management Agency, while security of IDPs camp is being ensured by the Army troops.
The ISPR said that air surveillance of the operational area with the help of own surveillance assets continues. The PAF fighter aircraft targeted militant sanctuaries in North Waziristan Agency so that to flush out the local and foreign militants hiding there.
Around 250 militants have so far been killed in aerial strikes since Sunday last. The operation was launched with code-named Zarb-e-Azb against militants in North Waziristan Agency following a deadly attack by the militants on Karachi Airport leaving at least 39 people including 10 attackers killed in the assault some 10 days back.
Meanwhile, at least eight militants were killed and 10 others got injuries during fighting between two factions of banned tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in North Waziristan Agency.
According to sources there has been a fight between Sajna and Shahriyar groups of the TTP at Shawal area of the agency as a result of which eight militants were killed and 10 others injured.
Dozens of militants have so far killed in clashes between the two factions of the Taliban over differences, sources said.
According to a military official close to the operation, the ground offensive will start in the next week when land forces will try to comb through North Waziristan’s valleys and take over villages and buildings.
Air raids have continued daily since Sunday, killing hundreds of fighters and no civilians, according to Pakistani military sources. The official account is impossible to verify as journalists are not allowed to work freely in the region.
The biggest setback may be far away from the battlefields of North Waziristan as the country braces for a wave of Taliban revenge attacks around Pakistan including in Punjab, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s political power base.
“The biggest challenge of this operation is that our success in the tribal areas could quickly turn into losses in the plains of Punjab,” a senior military official close to the operation told Reuters.
“Because there will be blowback and the public will get scared and Taliban sympathisers will come out and say ‘we told you so’. And that’s where we could lose this battle.”
“That is Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s biggest challenge,” he added: “To convince the public that it’s better to bleed once than to die slowly everyday.”
“The biggest challenge will be intelligence, how to get precise intelligence and then go after them,” said Imtiaz Gul, a security analyst. “They are dealing with a mobile enemy. It pops up here and there, and wherever you apply pressure they move to another place.”
Pakistan’s strategy, for now, is to encircle North Waziristan with troops and use helicopters and fighter jets to attack sanctuaries from the air.
Before it launches a ground offensive, the army has given the region’s estimated two million population several days to evacuate the area, with a large number of refugees massing in a tent camp across the border in Afghanistan’s Khost province - a potential humanitarian crisis in the making.
“The most difficult task is not the operation, they can achieve that and clear the area,” said Muhammad Amir Rana, director of the think tank Pak Institute for Peace Studies. “It is in the post-operation period when many different scenarios emerge. (Taliban) support networks, their affiliates are still active in many different parts of the country.”
“It’s difficult to distinguish between the good and the bad Taliban. It wouldn’t be an ideal scenario if the good and the bad Taliban joined forces and attacked the army together,” said Saifullah Mahsud, head of the FATA Research Centre think tank.
“That would make things very difficult for them.”