Islamabad : Pakistani Army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani Monday flew a combat mission against the Taliban, riding as the co-pilot in an F-16 jet for an aerial overview of the offensive against the militants in the country’s restive northwest.
In doing so, he became the first army chief to fly in an F-16 jet. The aircraft was flown by a wing commander of the Pakistani Air Force.
Earlier, while addressing soldiers and airmen at a forward air base, Kayani said Pakistan did not need any foreign help in the war on terror and that the armed forces were “fully equipped to root out the extremists”.
Describing the Pakistani armed forces as the “finest in the world”, he said they were capable of “thwarting any external or internal challenge”.
“A handful of extremists want to destabilise the country with their nefarious tactics. This is not a war of Islam but some anti-state elements who have pushed us to the wall and we had to start a military action against them,” Online news agency quoted Kayani as saying of the military’s anti-Taliban operations in Swat and two other districts of the North West Frontier Province that entered their 50th day Monday.
“We will not end military operations in the Swat Valley till all the militants are defeated,” he mantained.
Kayani said 126 soldiers have been killed in the operations.
He also announced that the soldiers involved in the operations would get double salaries from July 1.
The military began its operations April 26 after the Taliban reneged on a controversial peace deal with the NWFP government and instead moved south from their Swat headquarters and occupied Buner, which is just 100 km from Islamabad.
The operations had begun in Lower Dir, the home district of Taliban-backed radical cleric Sufi Mohammad, who had brokered the peace deal and who is the father-in-law of Swat Taliban commander Maulana Fazlullah. They later spread to Buner and Lower Dir.
The military says it has largely secured Buner and Lower Dir districts and is now engaged in mopping up operations in Swat.
To go by military figures, over 1,400 Taliban have been killed in the fighting. There is, however, no independent confirmation of this as the media has been barred from the battle zone.
Some three million civilians have been displaced from the three districts by the military operations.
Buoyed by their successes in the NWFP, the military has also moved against the militants in the Buner district to the south and is planning a full-scale offensive against Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud, whose writ runs in much of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) along the Afghanistan border.