Oct. 26 (Bloomberg) -- More than 15,000 villagers have fled a Pakistani army offensive that aims to clear Taliban-allied guerrillas from near the northwestern city of Peshawar and the main trade route to Afghanistan.
The offensive initially targeted two villages southwest of Peshawar and has expanded to five localities in the Khyber Agency, or tribal district, said Haseeb Salarzai, assistant director of the FATA Disaster Management Authority. Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas, or FATA, is a semi-autonomous, ethnic Pashtun zone along the Afghan border where the Taliban and other militants have challenged the government for control since 2004.
As many as 18,000 people have fled the offensive, which began Oct. 21, Salarzai said in a phone interview. Many of the refugees have gone to the Jalozai refugee camp, east of Peshawar, where the acting director, Noor Akbar Afridi, said yesterday that more than 1,600 families, or about 10,000 people, had been registered.
The army sent units of its main force in FATA, the paramilitary Frontier Corps, to root out militants in the villages about 8 kilometers (5 miles) southwest of Peshawar after the guerrillas ambushed an army convoy Oct. 20, triggering a battle in which 34 militants and three Pakistani soldiers died.
The fighting is the latest eruption of a seven-year-old rebellion led by a local man, Mangal Bagh, whose Lashkar-e-Islam guerrillas are loosely allied with Pakistan’s Taliban movement. Bagh’s fighters have threatened security in Peshawar and have attacked NATO supply convoys on the highway from the city to the Khyber Pass border crossing, the main overland trade route to Afghanistan.
Bagh’s fighters have attacked trucks carrying supplies for U.S.-led NATO forces in Afghanistan on the highway that runs from Peshawar and across the Khyber Pass border to Afghanistan. In 2008, when Bagh’s men made incursions into Peshawar, the military launched an offensive and blew up his home.
To contact the reporters on this story: Anwar Shakir in Peshawar, Pakistan.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg in Hong Kong at firstname.lastname@example.org.