Lahore: The Pakistan Army has been called in to join an operation against gangsters on Friday, after police failed to flush them out in the southern part of Pakistan's Punjab province.
The operation 'Zarb-i-Aahan' involving 1,600 security officials has miserably failed as the hardened criminals are taking advantage of the thick forest in an island at Indus River area between Rajanpur and Rahim Yar Khan districts.
"The army has been called in to assist the operation against the hardened criminals in Rajanpur. An army battalion from Okara and two platoons of the Special Services Group, an independent commando regiment/corps of the army, have been called in to launch a large-scale operation," Ghulam Mubashir Maken, the police officer who is leading the operation, said.
A strike force with paratroops from the Pakistan Rangers would also take part in the joint operation along with regular policemen and commandos of the force, he added.
"The operation against the gangsters will start today midnight and continue till the elimination of the last criminal," he said.
Seven policemen were among 13 people killed and 22 others taken hostage by the notorious Chotoo gang during the police raid to clear their hideout in Punjab province, forcing the government to use aerial strikes to end the standoff in Rajanpur district, some 400 kilometers from Lahore.
The police have also failed to recover 18 security personnel taken hostage by the gang.
The gang is hiding in a forest on an island in the Indus River area between Rajanpur and Rahim Yar Khan districts.
Chotoo, who carries a huge bounty on his head, radioed a message to the police to call off the operation, release his arrested gang members and vacate the area or else the hostages would be killed one by one.
Earlier, Punjab police chief Mushtaq Sukhera held a meeting with the corps commander of Multan and discussed updates on the situation and a new standard operating procedure in order to launch a military operation against the gangsters.
"It will be a massive joint operation led by army," a police spokesman said after the meeting.
"A strategy for the release of the captive policemen and to eliminate notorious criminals was discussed, besides an option of airstrike through military helicopter gunships," he said.
Police said the gangsters are equipped with sophisticated weapons. The collateral loss came when the police higher-ups received a poor response from the government following their request for the launch of air strikes.
"We are under attack by criminals carrying sophisticated weapons as some policemen have seen them using 12.7mm heavy anti-aircraft machine guns," a police official said.
He said that the fierce resistance put up by criminals indicated that some 'terrorists' of banned organisations might be present in the area. It is suspected that elements of banned outfits such as Lashkar-e-Jhanghvi (LeJ) and Sipah Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) are part of the gang.
"As many as 150 hardened criminals have been hiding in the forest, bordering Sindh and Balochistan provinces," the official said.