ISLAMABAD / LANDI KOTAL: The Pakistan Army announced on Saturday that it had completed the first phase of Operation Khyber-IV in the Rajgal area of Khyber Agency after gaining control of a key mountain top.
“Khyber-IV’s Phase-I has been completed after clearance of Brekh Muhammad Kandao,” the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the media wing of the military, said in an update on the operation that started last Sunday.
Two soldiers have been martyred in the operation in which over 90 square kilometres of a total of 250 square kilometres have been cleared.
Announces completion of ‘swifter-than-expected’ Operation Khyber-IV’s first phase
Troops are now advancing to clear the remaining area of the Rajgal Valley.
“Every inch of Pakistan will be peaceful, no one can beat resilient Pakistan,” the military spokesman tweeted.
The operation is being conducted by a division-size force supported by commandos, artillery, aviation and air force in the area that was infested with hideouts of the banned Lashkar-i-Islam, Jamaatul Ahrar and the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan.
The operation has been launched to prevent the militant Islamic State group from making forays into Pakistan from its stronghold in Nangarhar across the Afghan border through collaboration with Pakistani terrorist groups having sanctuaries in the Rajgal Valley.
Brekh Muhammad Kandao, near the border with Afghanistan, is said to be the “highest and craggiest mountain top”. The clearance of the mountain top by special services troops was described as a major achievement.
Terrorists had set up an observation post at the top of the mountain and stored arms and ammunition at its base.
The ISPR said the mountain top was cleared after a tough fight with the terrorists, who had been holding it. “Terrorists gave stiff resistance but couldn’t sustain against determination of Pakistani troops. … Many terrorists were killed, few fled to Afghanistan. Terrorists hideout was dismantled, and cache of IEDs, arms and ammunition was recovered.”
The troops have now established posts on the over 12,000 feet mountain, which has a thick forest.
The operation was initially expected to be slow because of difficult terrain, thick forests and mining of the area by terrorists, but is now said to be ahead of the schedule.
“The mountain top was planned to be cleared little later as per initial plan but with high tempo operation it has been cleared well ahead of planned timings,” the ISPR said.
The operation had been criticised by the Afghan government which said it had been started without coordination and agreed monitoring by China and the United States.
The Army had rejected Afghan reservations about the operation as unwarranted.
“Afghan Ministry of Defence’s response to operation Khyber-IV is unwarranted and runs counter to Pakistan Army’s efforts for better Pak-Afghan coordination and cooperation,” a military spokesman had said while responding to the Afghan government’s reaction to the operation.
The security forces captured the strategic mountaintop in the Rajgal area of the Tirah Valley on Saturday, besides killing a number of militants and forcing others to retreat and flee to Afghanistan.
A statement issued by the ISPR said that security forces had established their control on Brekh Muhammad Kandao while forcing militants to flee after a fierce gun battle. Heavy artillery pounded the surrounding areas to prevent militants’ possible reinforcement reaching from across the border in Afghanistan.
The ISPR said that commandos from the Special Services Group of the Army were leading the ground offensive and had made rapid advances into the forested areas of Rajgal.
The Army also claimed to have seized a large quantity of arms and ammunition stored in militant bases in Rajgal and surrounding areas.
It is learnt that foot soldiers assisted by tanks and artillery have made steady advances towards Tor Lagud and Kachkol heights, where militants have established their bases and hideouts.
Published in Dawn, July 23rd, 2017