PESHAWAR: Chief of Army Staff Gen Raheel Sharif ordered troops on Wednesday to march on the last bastion of terrorists in Shawal valley of North Waziristan to take operation Zarb-i-Azb to its logical end.

“Commence forthwith the last phase of the operation which aims at clearing remnants of terrorists from their hideouts in deeply forested ravines, isolate them and indiscriminately sever their links with their abettors anywhere across the country,” he was quoted as saying to the troops during a visit to Shawal.

According to an Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) statement, the army chief visited the valley along the Afghan border to review progress of the operation.

The operation commander briefed him about operational gains so far and the impending actions in the area, the statement said.

The army and paramilitary forces, backed by the air force, launched the coordinated operation against local and foreign militants in the North Waziristan tribal region in June 2014.

Major areas of the region, including the agency headquarters Miramshah and Mirali, have been cleared.

Shortly before the operation was launched, militant organisations, including the main group led by Hafiz Gul Bahadur, had moved to Shawal valley.

According to sources, preparations for the last phase of Zarb-i-Azb were started about one and half months ago and the operational commanders were waiting for a go-ahead.

According to official statements, over 3,500 militants have been killed in the operation, while the offensive forced over a million civilians to vacate their homes and move to settled areas of the country.

Gen Sharif was informed that the deeply forested ravines of Shawal valley and the area ahead of Dattakhel, which had been frequent infiltration routes of terrorists between Pakistan and Afghanistan, were their last bastion left in North Waziristan, the ISPR said.

The completion of the last phase of Zarb-i-Azb in Shawal area will bring active combat operations in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas to an end.

The army initiated active combat operation against Taliban and Al Qaeda in Kalosha, South Waziristan, in January 2003.

The ISPR said the army chief expressed complete satisfaction over the gains and effects of the operations and acknowledged the resolve of the troops to eliminate terrorists in their leftover sanctuary.

Addressing troops participating in the operation, he commended their high state of morale and paid rich tribute to their resilience and sacrifices.

He said the sacrifices of the soldiers would not go waste and the ultimate goal of a terrorism-free Pakistan would be achieved.

The army chief was received on his arrival by Peshawar Corps Commander Lt Gen Hidayatur Rehman.

Published in Dawn, February 25th, 2016

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