Double exodus as civilians flee offensive in NWA

BANNU: Civilians are streaming out of a tribal area in a two-pronged exodus ahead of an expected ground assault against Taliban militants, officials said Thursday, with many crossing the border into Afghanistan. The military is waging a long-awaited offensive against insurgents holed up in North Waziristan and began pounding targets with air raids and artillery fire on Sunday. Tanks and troops have been mobilised and are expected to begin a new, more intense phase of the operation after a three-day window to allow civilians to leave the area, due to end on Friday. In the latest action, 15 militants were killed by helicopter gunships overnight and eight more by sniper fire while attempting to plant bombs on an important road, a statement from the military said. Officials say that more than 140,000 people have fled North Waziristan since initial air strikes began in May.That represents more than a quarter of North Waziristan’s estimated total population but the true figure is likely to be even larger, as official numbers only count people who register with the authorities. Most of those escaping have gone to the town of Bannu, which neighbours North Waziristan in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province.

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