More than 200,000 people have fled Pakistan's latest offensive against Taliban militants in the northwest, the United Nations said on Monday, as fresh clashes in the remote region killed 41 insurgents and two soldiers.
The military has pounded the Orakzai tribal region with airstrikes and artillery in an attempt to rout insurgents from the rugged, mountainous area near the Afghan border. Many Taliban fighters fled to Orakzai last year to escape a separate army offensive in their tribal stronghold of South Waziristan. The exodus of civilians from Orakzai adds to the more than 1.3 million people driven from their homes by fighting in the northwest and unable to return.
The U.N. warned Monday it faces a severe shortfall in funding needed to aid those displaced, saying it has only received about $106 million, or 20 percent, of the $538 million appeal it launched in February for the next six months. Last year, the U.N. had received 40 percent of its appeal by this time, it said. "Already some of our NGO partners ... providing a humanitarian response are canceling lifesaving projects and laying off their well-trained and well-experienced staff who are able to implement these projects efficiently in the affected areas," said Martin Mogwanja, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Pakistan. The projects affected include those providing water, food, health care and sanitation for the displaced, said Mogwanja. Almost 210,000 people have fled Orakzai since the fighting first started at the end of last year, including nearly 50,000 people who have left in the last month as the military has intensified its offensive in the area, said the U.N.
The latest violence in Orakzai occurred Monday when dozens of militants armed with rockets and automatic weapons attacked two security checkpoints in the villages of Shireen Dara and Sangrana, local administrator Samiullah Khan said. Security forces successfully repelled the attack, but two soldiers were killed and three others wounded, he said.
"More than 100 militants attacked the security checkpoint in Shireen Dara," Khan said. "They fought a gunbattle for two hours and fired several rockets."
After the battles subsided, authorities found the bodies of 15 dead militants around the two checkpoints, said two intelligence officials. Insurgents removed the bodies of at least 26 others who were killed, they said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
More than 300 suspected militants have been killed in Orakzai since mid-March, including 10 on Sunday when fighter jets destroyed three militant hide-outs in Sangram village, Khan said. Government reports are almost impossible to independently verify because journalists are prohibited from traveling to the country's semiautonomous tribal areas.