Pakistani military winding down operations in northwest


Islamabad : The Pakistani military Friday seemed to be winding down its 61-day anti-Taliban operations in Swat and two other districts of the northwest and was focusing on mopping up operations in the areas that have been cleared of the militants.

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One indication of this is that no Taliban have been been killed in the 48 hours to Friday afternoon, to go by an Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) statement.

“During the last 24 hours, security forces apprehended two terrorists and also recovered arms and ammunition,” the statement said.

Similarly, no Taliban casualties had been reported in the previous 24 hours to Thursday afternoon.

The military says 1,599 Taliban have been killed in its operations in three districts of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) that have triggered the biggest and quickest refugee exodus in recent times, with 3.8 billion civilians fleeing the fighting.

No consolidated figures have, however, been issued of the injured on either side.

In Swat, the ISPR statement said, “search and sweep” operation by the security forces were continuing.

“Security forces consolidated their positions in area around Kabbal and Rangeela. During an exchange of fire with terrorists, one soldier was injured,” the statement added.

Security forces had also cleared the area around Khazana, Tangar, Bartana, Libat towns and the villages of Baidera and Gamkot. During the operation, two terrorists were apprehended and three improvised explosive devices (IEDs) were neutralized.

“Security forces conducted clear and search operations at Jabbar Kalle (near Malam Jabba) and neutralized five IEDs, destroyed one tunnel and one shell-proof bunker of the terrorist”,” the statement said.

Speaking about restoration of services in the cleared areas, the statement said army engineers had completed road repairing and filling work around Mingora, Swat’s largest city, while the repair of 76 damaged water pumps was underway.

The operations began 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 Swat – and to South Waziristan earlier this month.

South Waziristan is the headquarters of Baitullah Mehsud, who heads the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the umbrella group of various Taliban groups operating in the country.

Mehsud is also accused of having a hand in the Dec 27, 2007, gun and bomb attack that killed former prime minister Benazir Bhutto as she left a political rally in the garrison town of Rawalpindi adjacent to Islamabad.

On Tuesday, a US drone strike on a funeral in South Waziristan narrowly missed Mehsud, an American media report said Thursday.

Mehsud was not at the spot at the time of Tuesday’s attack, but had gone to pay his respects to a Taliban commander killed in another American drone strike earlier the same day, a Pakistani security official told the New York Times.

Though the strike on the funeral appeared to have included only two mid-level Taliban leaders among the scores killed, it presented a clear blow to Mehsud’s operation, showing the deadly proximity of the drone attacks to his areas and even the possibility that he was a target, the Times said in a report from Islamabad Thursday.