End of Operation Khyber-II in Tirah

Written by  Published by:Shiite News
Published in Pakistan
Saturday, 04 July 2015

ON the first anniversary of the ongoing Operation Zarb-i-Azb on June 15, the military wrapped up Operation Khyber-II in the Tirah region.

Launched in March, after the military cleared much of the Bara plain in Operation Khyber-I, this follow-on operation in Khyber Agency was meant to clear the fierce Tirah terrain consisting of deep valleys and high mountains.

The principal threat in the Tirah region came from the TTP; the Mangal Bagh-led Lashkar-i-Islam; a breakaway TTP faction, the Jamaatul Ahrar; and sundry foreign militants.

That the military, with its superior power, would eventually prevail over the militants in terms of reclaiming the Tirah region was always clear.

However, there has been a high cost, not least in terms of the more than 50 dead soldiers and over 100 injured.

Yet, with the army chief in North Waziristan yesterday and the military preparing for what is expected to be one of the toughest fights there in the Shawal region, loss of life in military operations is the high price the country sadly must pay for the state to once again reassert its control in the militancy-hit regions.

It should be noted that Operation Khyber-II has not resulted in actual physical control by the military of all three passes from Tirah into Afghanistan — though the unreclaimed valleys of one of the three passes can, according to the military, be controlled by aerial firepower because the military now occupies the peaks over them.

This means two things. One, Operation Khyber-II may require another phase for the total recapture of Tirah. Two, the military may apparently be forced into the continued use of air strikes in the Rajgal and Kachkol valleys to prevent the movement of militants until winter.

At that point, with the onset of the cold season, a new challenge will emerge if the valleys have not been taken over by the military by then — ensuring a military presence in tough and inhospitable terrain while simultaneously guarding against hardened militants slipping in under the cover of extreme temperatures.

Vital as it has been to reclaim the Tirah region, it was clearly left to the last because of the challenge it posed, unlike the Bara plains which were relatively easier to secure in Khyber-I.

From this point onwards, the post-operation challenge is a familiar one: the military can hold and secure terrain, but it will only ever return to some semblance of long-term normality if the civil administration is allowed to function — and if the civilians show some ownership of the project.

Administrative control of the Tirah tehsil has traditionally been done from Bara, a situation that must change if Tirah is to be stabilised.

Perhaps a road-building project into Tirah would also go a long way in creating long-term stability in a region that has been dominated by kidnap gangs, drug traffickers and, of course, militant groups.

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