LANDI KOTAL: Backed by air strikes and heavy artillery shelling at suspected militant hideouts, army troops have finally penetrated into the deep-forested Rajgal valley in Tirah which was considered to be the last bastion of outlawed militant groups.
Sources in the region told Dawn on Tuesday that foot soldiers made it to militants-infested Rajgal under the cover of heavy artillery shelling fired from the Meshtara camp in the Bazaar Zakhakhel area.
They said the shelling was launched about two weeks ago in security forces’ bid to flush out militants from their hideouts established in the valley under the cover of heavy forest. The sources said that at least 2,500 residents of Rajgal had long vacated the valley after the Taliban and activists of the banned Lashkar-i-Islam forcibly occupied their houses.
“Most of these houses were converted into training camps, ammunition depots, private prisons and torture cells, with at least one being used as a suicide jackets manufacturing factory,” a resident of Rajgal, who now lives in Jamrud, told Dawn.
Political administration claims 15 militants killed in air strikes
“The operation has been launched along the areas on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan to reinforce troops deployment in the Rajgal valley to effectively check and guard against movement of terrorists along high mountains and all weather passes in Khyber Agency,” the Inter-Services Public Relations said in a statement issued on Tuesday morning.
The sources said security forces had cleared and secured Pak Darra, Bagh, Barrai, Ghakhi, Wachay Wanny and Patai areas before launching the final strike in Rajgal.
Security officials claimed that at least five militant hideouts had been destroyed in Kheraba and Sattar Kalay, along with Rajgal.
Although the army made no claims about any human loss in the bombing, officials of the political administration told reporters that at least 15 suspected militants had been killed and several others injured during the air strikes in the valley.
The military had in mid-2015 announced that the Khyber 2 operation launched to flush out militants from different parts of Tirah had been abandoned as they had by that time achieved most of their set targets. Security officials had at the time said that air strikes would be launched in Rajgal and its adjoining areas whenever they felt the need to curb the movement of militants in the region.
More than 15,000 families of Kukikhel tribes who had been forced to leave their houses about four years ago are still waiting for security forces’ clearance to return to their areas.
According to the sources, security forces have taken control of Haider Kandaw and its surrounding areas along the border between Tirah and Kurram Agency.
The security officials said checkpoints had been set up on hilltops around Jutt, Ouch Naaw, Taju and Yagu Mela areas to curb infiltration of militants from parts of Kurram into Tirah and Rajgal.
Meanwhile, Lashkar-i-Islam denied that any of their hideouts or bases had been targeted in the Rajgal operation. Its spokesman, Salahuddin Ayubi, told Dawn by phone from an unspecified place that all their hideouts were intact and they would continue their ‘holy war’ against the security forces of Pakistan.
He also claimed responsibility for killing police officials in the Swabi district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and said police and security officials were on their hit list.
GRENADE ATTACK: At least two Levies personnel were injured in a grenade attack in the Maidan area of Tirah on Tuesday.
Officials said one of the attackers was killed in the retaliatory fire by the Levies force.