ISLAMABAD/peshawar - At least 25 suspected militants were killed in airstrikes and by ground troops of Pakistan Army in North Waziristan Agency as the number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), fleeing the cordoned off area, crossed 430,000 on Monday.
“Eight terrorist hideouts around Mirali, North Waziristan Agency were destroyed by jet aircraft early Morning today,” said a statement issued by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR).
“15 terrorists were killed in the strikes. Tunnels were spotted in the targeted areas.”
Meanwhile, 10 suspected terrorists were killed while fleeing from the cordoned off area in Spinwam and Mirali areas, said the Army statement. “Two soldiers embraced shahadat (martyrdom) in exchange of fire,” it added.
The statement said that the Pakistan Army troops have foiled several attempts by militants to flee the cordoned off area.
Aerial surveillance, vigorous patrolling and cordon around the area housing terrorists continue as the operation Zarb-i-Azb progresses as per plan, said the ISPR statement.
On IDPs situation, the Pakistan Army said that curfew was relaxed from 6am to 4pm on Monday to facilitate evacuation of leftover local people.
“414,429 IDPs have been registered so far at Saidgai Checkpost. It is believed that remaining people will leave the area today.”
For better management of IDPs at Bannu, Army Engineers Division has been tasked to assist the civil administration at Bannu and Dera Ismael Khan. Troops of the Engineers Division have already reached Bannu.
The Army said that four relief goods delivery points had been established by its engineers division at Bannu, where food items, medical care and cash amount, as announced by the federal government, will be distributed by the concerned civil agency among IDPs of NWA.
A field medical hospital by Army medical corps is also being established at Bannu to provide medical relief to the displaced people, it added.
Meanwhile, the World Food Programme (WFP) on Monday began distributing aid for hundreds of thousands of IDPs, as refugees expressed increasing frustration at delays in assistance and prospects for peace.
Sakeenullah Khan, a 32-year-old tribesman from Anghar village, said that for all the army’s talk of a quick operation lasting just weeks, he was not hopeful of returning home soon.
“The IDPs (internally displaced people) from South Waziristan are still out of their homes and so are those from Khyber, so we doubt peace will return soon,” he said, referring to other operations by the army in recent years.
Forty-year-old Meera Jan, who spoke to AFP from a refugee registration point, said he had already lost his small business after fleeing smaller military strikes over the years.
In addition to their long-term worries, the refugees face immediate concerns such as a lack of basic supplies, including food.
They are forced to live either in tents under the scorching summer heat or to pay exorbitant rents for houses.
The WFP began distributing rations including wheat flour, cooking oil, lentils and high-energy biscuits Monday through a local non-government partner, after police were forced to disperse thousands of protesters angered by hours of delays.
Noor Bat Khan, a 60-year-old resident from Esori village in North Waziristan, criticised authorities for taking so long to act and for not creating enough centres.
Said Nawaz, a 44-year-old who had just arrived in the town from Khutab Khel village in North Waziristan following a temporary curfew relaxation, said he hoped the military this time drove out the insurgents for good.
“We were stuck between the militants and the military for years. Now the government should bomb every house, mosque and markets to eliminate them. We need peace after our sacrifices,” he said.
“You can live under one government, but Waziristan was being ruled by two: the Taliban and the army - so you need to abolish one of them.”
Meanwhile, Pakistan Army on Monday gave residents of North Waziristan until the end of the day to leave the remote mountainous region ahead of a widely anticipated major ground offensive against militants.
“Today is the last day for the people to leave the tribal region,” a military official told Reuters by telephone from Miranshah. “The curfew will be then imposed and preparations made for the ground offensive.”
Many of those who stayed behind - their number is unknown - said they could not afford to pay for cars to take them to safer places such as Bannu, a dusty town on the edge of the region, where most refugees have settled.
“Those who could afford it have left the tribal region, but some are still there and could die in the fighting as they don’t have any means to come out of Waziristan,” Zakirullah Khan said after arriving in Bannu.
He said prices charged by drivers had soared to levels well beyond the budgets of those wanting to leave. Other residents complained the government was not doing enough to help them. Many opted to stay with relatives rather than official camps.
Refugees said settlements in North Waziristan had been reduced to ghost towns.
“In my entire life I have never seen Waziristan so deserted and scary,” said Shad Mir Wazir, a refugee, adding that he saw a number of Taliban militants still hiding in some villages.