MIRAMSHAH: Security forces on Thursday began a cordon and search operation in an area considered to be a stronghold of foreign militants near North Waziristan’s regional headquarters of Miramshah and officials said the troops did not face any resistance.
According to security officials, troops moved early in the morning into Machis Camp and the adjoining Khurwani, half a kilometre to the east of Miramshah bazaar – a roughly two square kilometre area dominated by foreign militants, mainly from Uzbekistan.
“Our search and sweep operation began early in the morning and it is continuing,” said an official on condition of anonymity. “There has been no resistance. Most of the dwellers had left during the three hours break in curfew on Wednesday. No one is left there,” he said.
Miramshah residents reached by phone said that 3,000 families living in Machis Camp and Khurwani had moved out, taking advantage of relaxation in curfew, to nearby places. It was not clear if the families would be allowed to return once the operation ended.
Tanks were deployed and used in the initial phase of the operation. A statement issued by the Inter-Services Public Relations described the search and sweep operation as ‘sanitisation’ which ended at around 3.30pm.
Drones manufactured in Pakistan were seen flying at low altitude for the second day as helicopter gunships provided air cover to ground forces.
Officials say forces facing no resistance
Two bodies were found during the operation. Their identities were not known.
The residents said the day began with artillery pounding suspected militants’ hideouts in Machis Camp. The shelling continued for two hours before ground forces moved in to conduct a house-to-house search. However, security officials denied that artillery had been used.
“We can still hear loud explosions. It seems the houses of suspected militants are being blown up as a punitive measure,” one resident said. The security official said the area was strewn with mines. “We have detected and defused two mines so far.”
The operation began a day after military planes and helicopter gunships pounded suspected militants’ hideouts in Miramshah and Mirali sub-district. Officials put the death toll at 71 which, they say, include local and foreign militants.
The residents, however, put the casualty figure at 80, including women and children.
A security official said that nine foreign militants, all from Uzbekistan, were killed in Wednesday’s bombing and clashes.
Three soldiers and a major were killed when they came under sniper attack. Seven soldiers were injured.
Agencies add: Residents said helicopter gunships flattened houses and compounds in Machis Camp while ground forces surrounded the area.
The military’s media wing could not be immediately reached for comment on Thursday’s ground offensive but intelligence and government officials said troops were moving from three directions and some clashes had erupted with Taliban.
“The offensive could be the army’s toughest test in years,” a senior military official said.
“Troops also used explosives to blow up more than 100 houses belonging to militants in Machis Camp,” the official said.
An official statement from the army said a military camp in Miramshah had come under attack from insurgents, who were successfully repelled.
In the town of Mirali, the military also targeted militant hideouts and helicopters fired shells on them.
“The troops have destroyed about 300 shops in the main Mirali bazaar,” a local official said. The military statement said two homemade bombs in the area were ‘neutralised’.
Residents said that the main power cable to the area was damaged in shelling and there was no electricity supply in the area since the previous night.
Published in Dawn, May 23rd, 2014