By Jamil Bhatti
ISLAMABAD, June 30 (Xinhua) -- At least 412 militants and 17 soldiers have been killed so far in military operation in northwest Pakistan that was launched on June 15 against foreign and local terrorists hiding in the country's northwestern tribal regions bordering Afghanistan, officials said Monday.
According to statistics released by the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), a mouthpiece of Pakistan army, since the start of operation, at least 376 terrorists have been killed in northwestern restive tribal region of North Waziristan, an area believed to be the last safe haven of militants in Pakistan. While forces have also killed 36 militants in another tribal region of Khyber Agency, an area adjacent to the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The Pakistan Army launched a comprehensive operation named " Zarb-e-Azb" (the attack of a sacred sword) against foreign and local militants who were hiding in sanctuaries in North Waziristan tribal region, a week after the terrorist attack on the country's busiest airport in the southern port city of Karachi.
On June 8, at least 40 people including security personnel, civilians and 10 terrorists of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan were killed and over 20 others injured in the attack on Jinnah International Airport in Karachi. Following the airport attack, the Pakistani military launched a series of aerial strikes on militants' hideouts in North Waziristan on June 10, killing 25 militants including foreign insurgents.
The Pakistani forces cordoned off the marked areas in North Waziristan to surround the terrorists before launching the intensified air strikes at the hideouts. In the first phase of strikes, the jet fighters bombed eight foreign militant hideouts in the early hours of June 15, killing up to 150 insurgents, a majority of whom were Uzbeks, including those reportedly linked to the airport attack.
One day after launching the operation, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif gave his policy speech in the National Assembly (the Lower House) and justified the government's decision to launch the operation and vowed to continue it until terrorism is eliminated from the country.
The prime minister also declared militants responsible for the failure of the peace talks due to a number of violations of the ceasefire from the militants' side by attacking government installations, security forces and civilians.
So far, 19 militants have surrendered to the security forces and 61 terrorists hideouts were destroyed in the operation, while 17 soldiers of Pakistan army were killed in the clashes and bomb attacks by the militants.
During the operation, Pakistan forces killed an important TTP commander Umer and arrested a prominent Al-Qaeda commander who was trying to flee from the surrounded area in North Waziristan.
On June 30, after the evacuation of all civilians from the region, Pakistan forces' infantry troops and personnel from special services group launched a ground operation by commencing house to house search in the main towns of Miranshah and Mir Ali.
Pakistani forces have been using fire of artillery, tanks and other heavy weapons to attack terrorists concentrations in the region.
The forces claimed to have recovered underground tunnels and IEDs preparation factories besides destroying the main communication center of the militants in the region.
Pakistan also urged the Afghanistan government to increase check at the common border between the two countries to stop the escape of terrorists from Pakistan to Afghanistan.
As a result of the operation, nearly half a million people including women, children had to flee from North Waziristan to safe places in other parts of the country, especially in neighboring Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The large scale evacuation has created a big challenge to the Pakistani government and army as how to accommodate and facilitate the internally displace persons (IDPs).
Pakistan army in coordination with the local administration has set up camps for the displaced persons in northwestern districts of Bannu, Dera Ismael Khan and Tank where displaced families are being provided with food items, tents for residence, medication and other essentials for daily usage.
Prime Minister Sharif on Friday visited the camp in Bannu along with army chief General Raheel Sharif and announced the increase of monthly aid package from 12,000 rupees (120 U.S. dollars) to 20, 000 rupees (some 200 dollars) for each family. Acknowledging IDPs' step to evacuate their homes for a national cause, Sharif promised to give a special allowance of 20,000 rupees to each family for the ongoing holy month of Ramadan.