ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN - Pakistan’s military said it killed more than 250 militants and lost eight soldiers in counterinsurgency operations near the Afghan border in the past two months.
Army officials said fighting in the remote Shawal valley of North Waziristan is the final phase of a major ground and air offensive launched in June 2014 to clear the semiautonomous tribal region of local and foreign militants.
“The battle to clear the last pocket close to the Pak-Afghan border continues … in extremely hostile terrain and harsh weather conditions,” the military said Sunday in a statement, which contained the latest details of the so-called Zarb-e-Azb (ZeA) operation.
The army said all areas above 2,700 meters and covered with snow have been cleared, terrorist hubs have been destroyed, and large amounts of arms and ammunition recovered.
Fighting wounded more than 160 militants and 39 soldiers, it added.
Since the beginning of the nearly two-year-long offensive, the army said more than 4,000 fighters linked to local and foreign extremist groups have been killed in the Waziristan region as well as in related “intelligence-based” raids elsewhere in Pakistan.
Nearly 500 soldiers have also lost their lives, it said.
Sunday’s statement said that 36 percent of the tens of thousands of families uprooted by the army action in North Waziristan have also returned to their homes in areas cleared of of militants.
“Since start of operation ZeA in June 2014, security forces have cleared 4,304 square kilometers of area in North Waziristan Agency and restored the writ of the government,” it said.
While it is not possible to independently verify official fighting details because of lack of access for aid workers and reporters, army officials cite significant reduction in terrorist attacks around Pakistan as a proof the “terrorist infrastructure and communication network" in the tribal area have been uprooted.
In a statement released Sunday, a leading rights group again voiced concerns and skepticism about the military activity in the tribal region bordering Afghanistan, and called for investigations and strict oversight to prevent excesses and ensure accountability.
"The security forces are reported to have taken over private property of the locals with impunity. Reports of the use of excessive force in some villages are harrowing, where no house has been left standing and the population has had to escape the onslaught,” the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) said.
There was no immediate official reaction to the allegations by the group, which also acknowledged in an annual report released last week that Pakistan saw a 40 percent drop in violence in 2015.