Pakistan: 80,000 flee northwest offensive
PESHAWAR, Pakistan: Nearly 80,000 people have fled a tribal region in northwest Pakistan over the last two days, an official said, as the military continues its offensive in the rugged area near the Afghan border.
The military launched the operation in North Waziristan Sunday night, saying it was going after militants who have long used the region as a base from which to launch terrorist attacks.
A curfew already in place Saturday prevented residents from leaving until it was lifted Wednesday morning. The offensive has so far consisted of airstrikes, but the lifting of the curfew to allow residents to flee could signal a wider ground offensive to come.
Arshad Khan, the head of the region’s disaster management authority, said 79,000 people left North Waziristan Wednesday and Thursday. Even before the operation was announced about 63,000 people had left because of previous airstrikes and fears of a larger offensive.
Residents have been streaming out of the region in trucks, cars and tractors loaded down with possessions such as mattresses, fans and television sets. Some have even brought their livestock.
Almost all have opted to stay with family or in rented houses instead of at a camp established for them.
Pakistan has long been criticized for failing to target militants in the North Waziristan region. The US says that militants such as the Haqqani network use the region as a base from which to attack Afghan and NATO troops in neighboring Afghanistan.