Thousands of people began streaming out of Pakistan’s lawless region of South Waziristan as Air Force jets carried out a wave of bombing runs killing 10 militants, ahead of an expected military operation to flush out Taliban and al-Qaeda terrorists from their strongholds.
Over 90,000 people have fled the area for specially set up camps in nearby Dera Ismail Khan and Tank also in the restive NWFP fearing that the offensive may roll any moment, officials were quoted by private TV news channels.
“People have begun to pour out of the area and nearly 90,000 have arrived in camps set up by the government at Dera Ismail Khan and other places,” top local officials have said.
The exodus has gained momentum after the Taliban’s audacious storming of Pakistan’s Army headquarters at Rawalpindi, with people apprehending that a retaliatory strike by the security forces could be imminent.
So far, according to official estimates, more than 2,00,000 people have left Waziristan to find shelter in government run camps or with their relatives.
In an attack on a hide-out in Makeen four militants were killed while in another at Barwand killed six. Meanwhile, forces in an army camp in Razmak shelled militant positions in the surrounding mountains, officials said.
The government has announced that it intends to carry out a military campaign in Waziristan but so far only air strikes and artillery barrage have hit Taliban positions in the region.
For the fourth consecutive day on Pakistani fighter jets pounded Taliban positions in Makeen, Ladha, Nawazkot in Waziristan and a total of 120 people are reported killed in these attacks. Chief military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said that forces had blocked all entry and exit points to Waziristan agencies.
The air strikes and artillery barrage are aimed at “softening the target,” Maj. Gen. Abbas told Dawn News.
“There has been heavy bombardment targeting militant hideout and defences and a number of people have been killed,” the TV channels quoted intelligence officers as saying.
Two divisions of Pakistani Army along with an armoured brigade have ringed Waziristan awaiting the go ahead to march in. They would face an estimated 10,000 hardcore Taliban militants plus 6,000 battle hardened Uzbeks and scores of al-Qaeda’s Arab fighters.
The military says that 80 per cent of the militants attacks on the mainland are planned from this remote mountain region. The worries of the security forces have been compounded with the recent reports that Tehrik-i-Taliban had been able to rope in Punjabi militant groups for their strikes against the Army in Punjab and other regions of Pakistan.
Meanwhile, a top paramilitary official claimed that Taliban were running terrorist training camps in Koh-e-Suleman mountain range on the Afghan-Balochistan border to destabilise the country’s heartland.
These camps are being used to infiltrate terrorists into the Punjab province through Dera Ismail Khan town in the restive NWFP, according to Major General Yaqoob Khan, the head of the Pakistan Rangers in Punjab province.