At least three security officials, including a subedar major who was taken hostage by militants holed up inside the Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) building in Bannu, were martyred as security forces secured the facility seized by Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) men over the weekend.
Speaking to Geo News late on Tuesday night, Inter-Services Public Relations Director General Maj-Gen Ahmed Sharif said that 33 terrorists were under investigation in the CTD compound on Dec 18. “One of them snatched a weapon from a CTD officer and got his allies freed. They took hold of the weapons from the armoury and started firing, martyring a CTD officer while one was injured who later passed away.”
He said one officer of the security forces present inside the complex was taken hostage and other security personnel reached the site and surrounded the complex as soon as they heard the sound of firing. Gen Sharif said two terrorists were killed in the ensuing exchange of fire while three who tried to escape were arrested and two security personnel were injured as well.
“Our forces surrounded the entire area and thwarted any attempt by the terrorists to escape. In the last 48 hours, there were all-out attempts for an unconditional surrender from the terrorists who were demanding safe passage to go to Afghanistan.”
He said this demand was “completely rejected”. Gen Sharif added that because the terrorists were not ready to surrender their weapons, “forces started an operation on the CTD complex [on Tuesday] during which there was heavy exchange of fire and rooms were cleared out.”
The DG said security personnel fought bravely and 25 terrorists were killed in the clash, three were arrested and seven surrendered to the forces. He said three security officers were martyred in the operation while 10, including three officers, were injured. “This operation is a testimony to the Pakistan Army’s bravery and mission against terrorism,” Gen Sharif added.
‘Explosions and gunshots’
Residents said that they heard explosions and gunshots in the cantonment area as the operation began in earnest around noon. They said black smoke billowed above buildings in Cantt where the CTD facility was located. “The operation did not hamper the normal life in the city as people carried out routine work,” a resident added.
Another resident said that shops and business centres in the city remained open throughout the day and people thronged bazaars for shopping. “Though the government-run and private educational institutions remained closed, government employees attended their offices located in the city.”
Separately, an emergency was imposed in local hospitals by the administration which put doctors on red alert. “In the wake of the prevailing law and order situation in the district and to ensure instant medical cover in case of any untoward incident, medical emergency is hereby declared in the Khalifa Gul Nawaz Hospital (KGN) and District Headquarters Hospital,” said a notification issued by the deputy commissioner
The mobile phone service also remained suspended in the cantonment, city, and surrounding areas while roads leading to the cantonment area and Miramshah Road had been closed for the last three days.
Asif’s ‘faux pas’
Earlier in the day, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif made a faux pas when he flip-flopped over his remarks made in parliament regarding the Bannu operation. Mr Asif, during a joint session of parliament, claimed that all militants had been eliminated and the operation was successfully concluded. However, minutes after the joint session, Mr Asif backtracked on his remarks during the subsequent National Assembly session. According to him, the Pakistan Army’s media wing would share details about the operation and subsequent causalities.
Speaking at parliament’s joint session, Mr Asif claimed that all “33 militants” had been killed while at least two commandoes embraced martyrdom. Khawaja Asif said that all ‘detained terrorists’ were killed in the “successful operation”. He said security forces secured the release of all CTD officials and killed militants present inside the compound. “These 33 [militants] were under arrest and had a link with multiple [banned] groups,” he added.
According to the minister, at least 33 terrorists were under arrest at the CTD compound and one of them managed to snatch a gun from an official after hitting him in the head with a brick. Mr Asif credited the military for the operation saying that the provincial government had “no role” in it. He added that a unit of SSG carried out the operation, in which 10-15 of its commandos were injured while two were martyred. He said the operation started at 12:30pm and the compound was cleared by 2:30pm.
Mr Asif, pointing towards a rise in terror incidents in KP and Balochistan, said terrorist incidents have taken place in other provinces as well but there is clear evidence that terrorists from across the border or local outfits were more active in the above-mentioned provinces.
North Waziristan lawmaker Mohsin Dawar also expressed concern over the law and order situation in KP and demanded the government revisit its Afghanistan policy.
Zaki Abbas in Islamabad and Syed Talal Ahsan in Karachi also contributed to this report