Pakistan’s military announced Saturday it has taken control of an ongoing police-led security operation to evict gangsters from their island hideout in the country’s most populous province of Punjab.
“Whatever resources required will be employed to accomplish the mission,” said army spokesman Lieutenant-General Asim Bajwa.
The move came as police and paramilitary forces have been struggling for days to dislodge the so-called “Chotoo" gang believed to be deeply entrenched in the 10-kilometer long island in the center of the Indus River.
The operation near the poverty-stricken district of Rajanpur has so far left six policemen dead and several others wounded. The gangsters are holding at least 24 personnel hostage, officials said.
Authorities blame the heavily armed criminal gang for hundreds of cases of kidnapping for ransom, robbery and murder in Punjab and the neighboring Sindh province.
Pakistani authorities identified the gang leader as Ghulam Rasool, commonly known as "Chotoo," who is alleged to have links to influential politicians.
Pakistani troops have for years conducted operations against militant strongholds in northwestern lawless tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, but this is the first time the military has been engaged in security operations in Punjab.
The Pakistan army has already carried out several targeted operations this year in the province against what it said were facilitators and financiers of militant groups that were operating in the tribal areas.