ISLAMABAD: Lt Gen Asim Bajwa said 490 soldiers of the Pakistan Army have died in the line of duty during Operation Zarb-i-Azb and work is still left to do – including improving the border management mechanism with Afghanistan as well as clearing restive pockets in areas of Swat.

The head of the military’s media wing was addressing a press conference on the two-year anniversary of Operation Zarb-i-Azb and presented major achievements of the operation so far – listing progress made on various fronts.

Bajwa said some 3,600 square kilometres were cleared initially in the operation, which has gone up 4,304 sq km in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and North Waziristan, adding that 992 hideouts have been destroyed thus far, with 253 tons of explosives seized.

"There was recruitment going on in North Waziristan, suicide jackets were spreading throughout the country. That has been controlled."

"There are just the last few pockets remaining in the Shawal valley," said Bajwa.

The ISPR head said forces recovered "modern weapons" from militants, which he claimed had been stolen from US troops.

He also revealed the challenges faced in the field, such as the dense forest and the unprecedented height of the Shawal valley and Dattakhel.

"Tribes have been rid of terrorists forever from here, after much difficulty and sacrifices from both locals and the armed forces alike," he said.

Borders

Border management is still a challenge and management mechanisms are an upcoming focus, said Bajwa.

"There are 1,350 kilometres of open, porous border with Afghanistan just in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa alone, with only eight crossing points in that length," said Bajwa.

"Strengthening existing crossing points and raising paramilitary forces to bolster border management along the rest of the length is the new challenge."

Intelligence-based operations

"When Zarb-i-Azb started, there was a big debate and fear of blowback," said Bajwa, adding the intelligence-based operations were an "innovative solution".

This entailed interrogating captives and information-gathering from locals alike. Bajwa praised the participation of communities.

"Ever since the population started becoming more aware, the number of facilitators have been reduced and networks have been broken apart in over 280 such operations."

Operations in Khyber and Waziristan

The army's spokesman said once the decision to initiate operations in the tribal areas was taken, the armed forces, in one of the largest deployments in the nation's history, started laying multiple layers of cordon around the areas which had been earmarked for clearance.

"We took the people of the area in confidence, and they asked us deal with the militants as we see fit," said Bajwa in the press conference.

Lt Gen Asim Bajwa also shared details regarding the operation in Khyber, and said a strength of a division and a half was deployed in the agency to clear it of militants.

"Never has such a high concentration of IED's been recovered in the world, which we encountered in Khyber Agency."

He added that the high number of casualties suffered by specialised troops was high due to the density of IEDs planted in the area.

"There was a history and a myth associated with these areas that suggested that no army can go in there and succeed, but we did," stated Bajwa.

The head of the ISPR reiterated that Pakistani soil will not be allowed to be used for terrorist activity, and the peace and security achieved will be maintained and further progress will be made in the coming days and months.

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