RAWALPINDI: Chief of Army Staff Gen Raheel Sharif presides over the Corps Commanders Conference held at the General Headquarters here on Monday.—PPI
RAWALPINDI: Chief of Army Staff Gen Raheel Sharif presides over the Corps Commanders Conference held at the General Headquarters here on Monday.—PPI

ISLAMABAD: The military’s top brass approved on Monday the timeline and operational details of countrywide ‘combing operations’ against terrorists and militant groups, which would involve large-scale army deployments.

“A comprehensive plan for carrying out Combing Operations was approved,” the Inter-Services Public Relations said in a media statement after the Corps Commanders Conference at the General Headquarters, which was chaired by Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif.

The army chief had talked about the ‘combing operations’ during his visit to Shawal last month, where he had announced the successful completion of the military action in North Waziristan.

The combing operations are aimed at locating the terrorists, their facilitators and sleeper cells in different parts of the country and neutralising them, besides expanding the reach of civilian law enforcement agencies.

The term ‘combing operation’ is a new addition to the Zarb-i-Azb lexicon. The Zarb-i-Azb started as ‘kinetic operations’ in North Waziristan in June 2014, which were later supplemented by ‘intelligence-based operations (IBOs)’ outside the tribal agency, primarily to pre-empt the then much feared backlash against the counter-terrorism campaign. Military officials say IBOs, during which a large number of terrorists were either apprehended or killed, turned out to be a major success because they helped in improving security situation throughout the country.

Combing operations, it is said, would be different from IBOs, where security forces acted on specific intelligence information about a terrorist threat. Under the combing operations, military would be deployed in potentially troubled areas and the troops would then seek out terrorists, their sleeper cells and facilitators, an official said while explaining the new concept.

“We have to go beyond what IBOs achieved,” the official maintained.

The combing operations would be led by the army, but would involve different security forces, including civilian law enforcement agencies.

Army’s preparations for combing operations, according to a source, are complete and would commence anytime. Although no tentative timeframe is being shared about the completion of these operations, it is generally expected that they would conclude before Gen Raheel Sharif’s retirement in the last week of November.

The military has already done its mapping of trouble spots. “These would be scattered operations involving large force size,” a source said adding they “can be undertaken anywhere in the country”.

“We’ll follow terrorists everywhere and use every strategy to defeat them,” a military official said.

Asked about the terrorists and militants organisations that would be targeted on priority, the official said, the action would be across-the-board and without any discrimination.

The new operations would be conducted under the Zarb-i-Azb framework and no fresh legal cover would be required, a source said.

Published in Dawn, May 3rd, 2016