LAHORE - Punjab police chief Mushtaq Ahmed Sukhera, yesterday defended the operation strategy adopted to fight criminal gangs in Southern Punjab.

The Inspector General of Police said that the security operation was planned with the help of Pakistan Army and Punjab Rangers.

“This operation was launched after proper planning with the help of Pakistan Army and (the Punjab) Rangers. Two Colonel-rank military officers from the Special Services Group (of Pak Army) are providing us guidelines on regular basis,” Sukhera said.

At least six policemen were killed, seven wounded, and 24 others went missing since authorities mounted one of the biggest security operation against gangsters and militants in the Kacha area of Rajanpur district.

The statement of the top provincial police officer comes as the police are facing severe criticism in the local media about the operation’s planning. Some news channels yesterday suggested that the military should lead this operation because police are unable to fight heavily-armed gangs.

Mushtaq Ahmed Sukhera also dispelled the impression that the policemen were not being supplied food, weapons and ammunition on the frontlines. “We are strictly following the standard operating procedure and officers are being supplied weapons in sufficient quantity”.

The police chief also attended the funeral prayers of martyred policemen at Police Lines Rajanpur district yesterday. On this occasion, he said that operation would continue till the elimination of criminals and militants from the area.

Punjab’s Central Police Office, last night, confirmed that at least six policemen were martyred and seven were wounded since the authorities launched the operation codenamed as Zarb-e-Ahan on April 5.

The whereabouts of at least 24 policemen are not clear since the ground offensive was launched in the tough and complicated terrain.

The police officers who lost their lives in the security operation so far were identified as Hanif Ghouri, Qazi Ubaidullah, Amanullah, Muhammad Ajmal (Elite Police Force), Shakeel Ahmed and Tariq.

The seven injured policemen were named by the police as Saeed Ahmed, Haq Nawaz, Aftab Ahmed, Ayyaz Ahmed, Saifullah, Muhammad Ishaq and Tanvir Ahmed.

According to a Press statement issued from the CPO, at least seven key members of Choto gang were killed during the operation.

The gangsters killed in the security operation were identified by police as gang leader Ali Gull Bazgeer, his brother Pandi, Deputy Commander Pahlwan alias Palhu Sikhani, Bahadar, Faqir Muhammad, Majid Bakhrani and Andery.

Hundreds of police and paramilitary troops early this month launched a large-scale offensive to target criminals and militants hiding alongside the riverine-belt, bordering Sindh and Balochistan provinces.

Apart from 1600 police, at least 300 Elite Police Force commandoes and dozens of personnel of the Counter-Terrorism Department are taking part in the joint security operation, underway in the Kacha area.

The Kacha area in the Rojhan Tehsil is located on the Indus River, bordering Sindh and Balochistan provinces. The region which is spread over 50 kilometers area on the edge of the Punjab province was a “no-go area” for the police since many years.

Police penetration or movement becomes very difficult in this area which comprises of thick jungle and hilly tracks alongside the River Indus. In simple words, it was a safe-haven for gangsters and militants since many years.

The police and the personnel of Punjab Rangers are also fighting on the frontline in the complicated terrain where heavily-armed criminals use boats to flee towards the jungle and nearby hills during the night hours. Over 100 facilitators of these criminals were arrested by police last week. They are being interrogated by intelligence operatives and police investigators at unknown places.

Following the Lahore blast, police and paramilitary troops launched the largest security operation in the Southern Punjab to clear the complicated terrain from militants, criminals and their facilitators.

Hundreds of temporary checkpoints are set up for monitoring the movement of the suspected militants.

Similarly, the adjacent river ways have also been cordoned off to restrict the movement of suspected elements.