By Mehreen Zahra-Malik
MIRANSHAH, Pakistan, July 10 (Reuters) - The Pakistani military has seized control of 80 percent of Miranshah, the capital of the remote tribal region of North Waziristan, where the military launched an operation against Islamist militants last month, a general said on Wednesday.
Previously, the city was largely under the control of the Taliban and militants used it as a base to prepare bombs and plan attacks, said General Zafarullah Khan, the top commander in rugged North Waziristan, which borders Afghanistan.
"North Waziristan had transformed into a hub and safe haven for terrorists of all colours and creeds," he said during a media trip to Miranshah. "But with the operation, 80 percent of Miranshah and the adjoining areas has been cleared."
The offensive in North Waziristan began on June 15, following months of failed negotiations between the government and the militants. Taliban attacks continued during the talks. A brazen assault last month on the airport in the southern city of Karachi killed 34.
Following that attack, the army sent fighter jets to bomb suspected militant hideouts in North Waziristan, the base of some of the country's most feared al Qaeda linked terrorists.
The army then ordered the entire civilian population of North Waziristan - estimated to be around half-a-million people - to leave. The ground offensive was launched on June 30.
The powerful Pakistan army had previously operated exclusively within its sprawling headquarters in Miranshah. The rest of the city, including homes, schools, shops and even hospitals, was under Taliban control.
Since the air operation began, 400 militants have been killed and 130 injured, the military's public relations wing said. Twenty four soldiers had been killed and 19 injured. The extent of civilian casualties is unclear.
North Waziristan has been sealed off from outsiders and there is no way to verify the military's figures.
During Wednesday's trip arranged by the army, journalists toured underground tunnels and facilities that the army said were bomb-making factories and camps to train suicide bombers.
The insurgents, many of them ethnic Uzbeks and Chinese Uighurs as well as indigenous fighters, were completely on the defensive, Gen. Khan said.
"We have set up 250 military checkposts to seal off their movements," he said. "We have found 11 IED (bomb) factories in Miranshah alone and 23,000 kg of explosive material. The militants' communications and operational capabilities have been greatly reduced."
However, reports from local residents suggest that many militants moved out of the area before it was secured. (Editing by Clarence Fernandez)
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.