Pakistan ramps up Taliban offensive
Half a million evacuated as government ground troops advance
Pakistan troops launch a ground offensive against Taliban insurgents. (Photo courtesy of Inter-Service Public Relation)
Pakistan's armed forces have stepped up an offensive against Taliban rebels in the restive tribal region that borders Afghanistan.
Ground assaults began in North Waziristan on Monday, two weeks after the start of air strikes which killed about 350 Taliban insurgents.
Some 500,000 displaced people have been forced to flee to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
"After evacuation of the civil population, ground operations commenced in and around Miranshah," a statement by the army's Inter-Service Public Relations said.
A firefight resulted in the deaths of 15 suspected Taliban. Three soldiers were also injured in the exchange, the statement added.
During house-to-house searches, troops uncovered underground tunnels and bomb making facilities inside the cleared area.
After months of frustrating attempts to negotiate a peace deal with the Taliban, Pakistan's army launched a comprehensive operation on June 15 to defeat the militants, who have been using the lawless northwest provinces as their base to carry out attacks across Pakistan.
The statement said that 376 suspected Taliban have been killed since the operation began.
According to Pakistan's disaster management authority, nearly 500,000 people have been displaced to Bannu, Dere Ismail Khan, Lakki Marwat and Tank districts, the biggest movement of refugees in the South Asian country in recent years.
"The civilian population has been evacuated from North Waziristan," an army statement confirmed.
The army has set up collection points across the country for relief supplies, which will be distributed to the displaced, the statement added.
Meanwhile, local media reported protests at refugee camps in Bannu and other districts for lack of preparedness.
Hundreds of internally displaced persons staged a protest in Bannu on Monday during a food distribution. Demonstrators chanted slogans against the local administration for not doing enough to help them and pelted police with stones.
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