Islamabad: The Pakistan military is struggling to maintain the ferocity of its campaign against the Taliban guerrillas in the tribal regions due to a resource crunch that has grounded its helicopter gunships, a media report said.
Resource constraints have put a halt to almost all operations against the Taliban barring few sporadic actions, an official told The Express Tribune on the condition of anonymity.
The air strikes had considerably helped the military take out high-value targets and it has been hit by the shortage of funds.
"Air power has always been the real difference between us and them. Without aerial cover, ground troops often face stiff resistance," said a fighter pilot who took part in the operation in Swat in 2009.
The helicopter gunships have proved to be effective in operations against militants in Swat and also lately in South Waziristan and Orakzai tribal regions.
"But flying gunships on a daily basis is a very expensive affair," the pilot said.
The army soldiers battling the rebels in the mountainous areas have relied on air strikes to break into the Taliban strongholds in South Waziristan and Orakzai, the media report said.
Officials at the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi said that for quite some time now, the aerial operations have been stopped, primarily due to the exorbitant cost that runs into billions of rupees.
Another official, however, cited a different reason for the halting of air operations.
"Yes, it is true helicopter gunship attacks are rare now. But it is due to the fact that militants are now scattered in different areas," he was quoted as saying.
"Whenever the militants regroup we use helicopter gunships like we did Tuesday in Mohmand," he added.
Pakistan is facing a major economic crisis. The economy has since 2008 been supported by an USD 11.3 billion bailout package by the International Monetary Fund.
Lt Gen (retd) Abdul Qayyum said: "Fighting a war is a costly affair."
"With the government facing serious economic challenges, it is obvious the military cannot sustain its activities in the tribal areas in this situation.
"I don't think the military can launch any new full-scale operation in the tribal areas. According to my estimate, the ongoing operations in the tribal areas cost Pakistan roughly $250,000 per soldier annually as compared to $1 million being spent by the Americans in Afghanistan," the retired general said.
First Published: Wednesday, January 26, 2011, 13:13