LANDI KOTAL/PESHAWAR, June 28: Security forces launched an operation against a militant outfit in the Bara sub-division of the Khyber Agency on Saturday, bombarding suspected hideouts with artillery and taking control of key positions.
The Inspector-General of Frontier Corps, Maj-Gen Mohammad Alam Khattak, told reporters in Peshawar that one militant had been killed and a private jail and three other buildings demolished. He said that forces had occupied all heights and clamped a curfew on the region.
Cobra helicopters carried out sorties over the troubled region throughout the day and tanks were deployed at a paramilitary base in Hayatabad, separating settled area from the tribal region.
A senior security official said: “We just want to show them (militants) what is in store for them.”
Sources said the administration was also working on a plan to organise a force of three tribes to take action against Mangal Bagh’s Lashkar-i-Islam.
Paramilitary troops have sealed all nine entry and exit points to the area.
The operation began with the firing of mortar shells at a checkpoint in Gandao. A Lashkar-i-Islam activist, identified as Mohammad Shoeb, was killed in the attack. The checkpoint was occupied by Lashkar men two months ago.
Paramilitary troops also destroyed two bunkers of Lashkar-i-Islam in the same locality.
Gen Khattak did not mention the name of Mangal Bagh or his organisation in the press briefing, held at the FC headquarters in Balahisar fort.
“I will not specifically mention name of a person or group against whom the operation has been launched,” he told journalists who insisted on disclosing the name of the group or individual who had challenged the government’s writ.
Officials in Bara claimed that during the day-long operation, three important bases of Lashkar-i-Islam had been destroyed in Akkakhel, Nala-Malikdin Khel and Shalobar areas. The house of Lashkar-i-Islam chief Mangal Bagh in the Sipah area was also demolished.
The officials also claimed smashing a private jail of the militant outfit.
Locals said that militants had left the area before the operation got under way.
Mangal Bagh used to run an FM radio station from Nala-Malikdin Khel. Security forces had in May 2006 destroyed the FM station, forcing Mangal Bagh to flee to Zakhakhel’s commercial area, in Landi Kotal tehsil.
The political administration imposed a ban on carrying and displaying arms in Jamrud sub-division. The situation in Landi Kotal remained under control.
Gen Khattak said the operation was aimed at enhancing the security around Peshawar and eliminating criminals from the tribal territory.
“This operation has limited objectives and it may continue for five or six days depending upon the situation,” he said, adding that the government’s writ would be established at all cost.
He said the FC was leading the operation in Bara tehsil and the army was on stand-by to assist the civil armed forces. He said the operation had been launched against criminal gangs, and not against any “specific person or group”.
In reply to a question about the deployment of army troops and positioning of tanks and artillery in the suburbs of Peshawar, Gen Khattak said: “This is a combined operation and the purpose of the large-scale deployment is a minimum use of force and maximum deterrence.” He said the troops would use minimum force to avoid “collateral damage”.
Answering another question, the FC chief said there was no threat to Peshawar and layers upon layers of defence had been formed to protect the provincial capital.
He said the government had acted in response to a growing public demand for “operation against criminals”, adding that the Bara crackdown would continue till the elimination of all pockets of resistance.
Meanwhile, unidentified armed men stormed into the compound of a controversial spiritual leader, Pir Saif-ur-Rehman, in Mandi Kas and destroyed the building.