PESHAWAR/ISLAMABAD - The Army on Sunday finally launched a full-blown offensive in North Waziristan, saying the operation codenamed 'Zarb-e-Azb' (sharp and cutting) has been initiated to eliminate foreign and local terrorists hiding in sanctuaries of the volatile tribal area.
The media wing of Pakistan military, Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) said in a statement the ground assault on terrorists had been launched in North Waziristan Agency on the direction of the government, adding that a number of terrorists were targeted early Sunday by jet strikes.
"Our valiant armed forces have been tasked to eliminate these terrorists regardless of hue and colour, along with their sanctuaries. With the support of the entire nation, and in coordination with other state institutions and Law Enforcement Agencies, these enemies of the state will be denied space anywhere across the country," ISPR Director General Asim Bajwa said in a press release.
The operation against terrorists comes after militants stormed the country's biggest Karachi airport killing 30 people including security officials. Sunday's jet strikes in Degan and Data Khel of North Waziristan reportedly killed Abu Abdul Rehman al-Maani, who is believed to have helped orchestrate the five-hour airport siege last Sunday. The airport attack invited public wrath and calls for a full-blown, ground assault.
"There were confirmed reports of presence of foreign and local terrorists in these hideouts who were linked in planning of Karachi airport attack,” the ISPR said.
The ISPR says death toll in North Waziristan Operation has reached 105; most of the dead are Uzbek fighters.
In a statement, it added eight hideouts of militants have been destroyed during the ongoing operation in North Waziristan.
Following the decision to launch military operation, it stated that surrender points are being set up for those who lay off their weapons.
It said that special registration centres have been established to maintain record of migrated people. It further said that the Army has been deployed at entrance and exit routes of North Waziristan.
The Army asked security forces of Afghanistan to seal off the border in order to control movement of terrorists. It said air surveillance is underway to monitor the activities of the militants.
Agencies add from Miranshah: Shoot-on-sight orders meanwhile have been imposed on NWA residents who leave their homes after dark, according to local intelligence officials and residents, leading to two people from the Sarai Darpa Khel area near Miranshah being critically wounded.
In the district's main town of Miranshah, imams made announcements from mosque loudspeakers asking people to recite from the Koran and pray to God for the safety of those who had remained behind.
US drones were also spotted hovering above the area, raising suspicion that Washington and Islamabad were coordinating their efforts after two drone attacks -- the first this year -- killed 16 militants on Wednesday.
The Taliban and ethnic Uzbek fighters holed up in North Waziristan - home to some of country’s most feared militants and Al-Qaeda commanders - have both claimed responsibility for last Sunday's commando-style attack on Karachi airport. The brazen all-night assault all but destroyed prospects of peace talks with the militants.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had long opposed outright military action, stressing the need to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table. It also raises the risk of revenge attacks by Taliban insurgents outside the tribal region after the Taliban vowed to strike back and hit security and government targets.
The Army has resorted to periodic air strikes against militant positions but has not been involved on the ground.
In anticipation of more violence, families have been fleeing North Waziristan into other parts of Pakistan as a climate of fear has gripped the lawless mountainous region.
It was not immediately known whether there were any civilian casualties. Journalists' movements are restricted in the ethnic Pashtun region where the Army has imposed a curfew, and verifying official or insurgent accounts is next to impossible.
Military sources told Reuters that Pakistan had sent 40,000 troops to the region for the operation, bringing the total to 80,000 and sealing off the border with Afghanistan. "Around 40,000 additional troops have been moved into North Waziristan for the operation, backed by artillery and helicopter gunships," said a military official.