PESHAWAR: The military said on Monday it had launched a full-scale ground offensive in and around Miramshah, the headquarters of North Waziristan Agency, marking the beginning of a phased search and sweep operation that officials say could take weeks to complete.
“A house-to-house search of Miramshah town is being carried out by infantry troops and Special Services Group,” a statement issued by the military’s public relations department, ISPR, said.
The military claimed to have killed 15 terrorists in the ground operation and said three soldiers had been injured.
According to an intelligence official, troops backed by tanks, artillery and helicopters launched the offensive at around dawn in the town, including Dattakhel bus stand and areas around Machis Camp.
“This is the beginning of the search, eliminate, clear and control phase. There is no turning back,” a security official said. “Troops would be fanning out and clearing the areas in a phased manner.”
A rocket landed near troops in the area, injuring three of them, the official said.
There were incidents of firing in Teachers’ Colony in Miramshah on Saturday and Sunday. But, he said, artillery was directed at the target and eight militants were killed, some of them from Punjab. According to him, no substantial resistance has since been reported.
“Troops have found underground tunnels and IED factories in the area so far cleared,” the ISPR statement said.
More than 30,000 troops, including the paramilitary Frontier Corps and the elite commandos’ SSG are involved in the operation.
Meanwhile, intelligence officials said that artillery and air force planes bombed areas in Torikhel, Madikhel and Shera Tala in Mirali sub-district.
ISPR said “integrated” fire of artillery, tanks and other heavy weapons was being carried out on terrorists’ concentrations in Mirali and other areas.
It said 376 terrorists and 17 security personnel had been killed since the launch of the Zarb-i-Azb operation.
There was no independent confirmation of the claim because journalists are not allowed to enter the troubled region.
The military said the operation was against an assortment of Uzbek and local militants, but according to residents, many of them had moved to other locations before the launching of the operation.
Over half a million people have fled the region and taken shelter in the adjoining districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, while thousands have moved across the border to Khost province in Afghanistan.
The ISPR also said that distribution of relief goods among the IDPs was continuing in Bannu, D.I. Khan and Tank and so far 30,000 rations packs, each of 110 kilograms, had been distributed.
Published in Dawn, July 1st, 2014