LAHORE - The entire city of Miranshah has been cleared of terrorists while, after finishing off the aerial bombardment, ground troops have started to move into Mirali where the army is now engaged in hand-to-hand fight with the terrorists, so far killing a main militant commander, Mateeullah, along with his six companions, said ISPR DG Maj-Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa in a briefing to journalists here on Tuesday.

He added though 100 percent ground control of Miranshah has been achieved, this does not include the improvised explosives devices (IEDs) which are still being removed from the areas in close proximity to the town of Miranshah.

The army is facing resistance from the militants holed up in different areas of Mirali, where snipers are also targeting armed forces, he said, stating at the same time that clearance of the town is also underway. He said that so far 11 terrorists have surrendered in Mirali.

According to ISPR, a total of five soldiers embraced martyrdom and 11 terrorists were killed in Mirali on Tuesday.

In an intense exchange of fire with terrorists in and around Mirali two soldiers including an officer Captain Akash Rabbai embraced martyrdom while two other soldiers were injured on Tuesday evening. Four terrorists were also killed in the exchange of fire.

It may be recalled that three soldiers embraced Shahadat in Mirali earlier in the day and seven terrorists were killed.

Stating that Pakistan has the highest rate of officer-to-soldier casualty, he said 450 terrorists had so far been eliminated while 26 personnel of the army have embraced martyrdom. This casualty rate is indicative of the fact that terrorists are putting up a serious fight, he stated.

The army has recovered vehicles, including military hummers, Afghan police high-roof trucks, suicide jackets, anti-tank mines, 20 million Afghan currency notes and a variety of IEDs and booby traps.

The IEDs were locally manufactured and sold in broad daylight in the markets across North Waziristan for a price ranging between Rs 100,000 and Rs 200,000. He explained that among the destroyed terrorist hideouts was ‘Shireen Zada Jihad Public Call office’ from where TTP used to connect with its members across the country as well as making phone calls to demand extortion.

On the question of the militants crossing into Afghanistan, Gen Bajwa said that so far there is no evidence to suggest that the Afghan government has been taking measures to stop or arrest the militants fleeing as a result of the operation Zarb-e-Azb, despite the Pakistani government conveying its concerns to Kabul.

Gen Bajwa said that so far, 80,000 displaced families have been registered, while Nadra is trying to confirm whether the total population of North Waziristan is close to one million, since according to the last census, the total population stood at 400,000. He also said in some cases, it happens that an individual would register himself as a ‘family’ in order to get extra food and ration which was causing the number to go up. As a proof of the government taking care of the IDPs, he said that although in the initial days, many of the families living along the Pak-Afghan border fled to Afghanistan, they came back when they saw that the IDPs were being facilitated.

He said an elaborate system had been put in place to catch the militants escaping in the disguise of IDPs. The system of verification of IDPs is functioning with the help of local MNAs, police, FC, intelligence agencies and other sources.

An important aspect of the army stomping on terrorism in these dangerous territories has been a welcome change in the outlook of the tribal population on life which, he said, was now looking favourably towards polio eradication campaign. He said the process of administering polio drops is also underway while more and more families were voluntarily turning up to get their children vaccinated. So far 300,000 children have been vaccinated, Gen Bajwa said.

He dismissed reports in the foreign press indicating the operation was resulting in collateral damage especially from air strikes. Only those areas are bombarded where militants are holed up or from where firing erupts, he said. He explained that civilians had been evacuated well ahead of the operation.

He did not give any figure about the racial composition of Taliban as to how many of them are Pakistanis and how many belong to foreign countries, but said that terrorists of all hues were present in the area and were being killed.

He said ‘clear phase’ was the second of the four stages of the operation Zarb-e-Azb which includes rebuilding the war zone and finally transferring control to the civilian authority. He did not indicate when the operation Zarb-e-Azb might end, but said that given the ongoing progress, it would conclude as soon as possible.