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Helicopter gunships shell Rajanpur hideouts

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A policeman stands in a bunker during the operation against hardened criminals in Rajanpur district.—AFP
A policeman stands in a bunker during the operation against hardened criminals in Rajanpur district.—AFP

LAHORE / D.G. KHAN: Formally launching a grand operation against hardened criminals on Friday, military forces resorted to shelling at their hideouts in the troubled riverine area of Rajanpur district.

Helicopter gunships were used to hit suspected positions and bunkers set up by the Chotoo gang criminals, a senior security official told Dawn. The initial air strikes lasted about 20 minutes. The security forces taking part in the operation, codenamed Zarb-i-Aahan, also had the backup support of mortar shells fired by Rangers.

The army has imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew (6pm to 6am) in some areas.

The official said the Chotoo gang and its allies were putting up resistance and the area echoed with heavy gunfire, bomb explosions and shelling.

There was no immediate information about any injury or casualty in the wake of the shelling.

The Inter Services Public Relations said information would be shared with the media on completion of the operation.

Witnesses said there was a heavy deployment and movement of military troops in Rojhan tehsil, adding that SSG commandoes had taken positions around the troubled island of Kacha Jamal and Moro where the Chotoo gangsters built permanent hideouts.

Some TV channels claimed that the Chotoo gang and some other notorious criminals had offered to surrender, but security forces rejected it.

Addressing officers at the Central Police Office in Lahore on Friday, Punjab Inspector General Mushtaq Sukhera said the Zarb-i-Aahan operation had been launched in collaboration with other law enforcement agencies.

He said that before launching the operation, security personnel were properly trained and equipped.

“During training sessions, 50,000 rounds were fired and use of mortars and other equipment were demonstrated,” the IG said, adding that two retired colonels from the Special Services Group were on board in the operation.

All personnel had been provided bulletproof jackets, helmets and five magazines of rounds, along with all essential gadgets and ammunition.

The IG claimed that during the operation police killed seven hardcore members of the Chotoo gang. He identified them as Ali Gulbazgeer, Pandi, Pehlwan alias Pallu, Bahadur, Faqeer Mohammad, Majeed Bakhrani and Aindar.

About the 24 missing policemen, a spokesperson for the Punjab police said they were in custody of the criminals.

RALLIES: Relatives of the captured policemen held demonstrations in Rajanpur and Layyah, asking the government to strike some sort of a deal with the Chotoo gang for their release.

According to sources, members of the gang were making calls to relatives of the captured policemen, asking them to do whatever they could to save their lives.

Published in Dawn, April 16th, 2016