Lahore: At least six Pakistani policemen have been killed and 15 others taken hostage by a notorious gang during a police raid to clear their island hideout in Punjab province, forcing the government to use aerial strikes on the gangsters.
The operation codenamed 'Zarb-e-Aahan' have been launched to flush out the gangsters from the province. The operation entered its ninth day with 1,600 security officials, including police officials and paramilitary Rangers, battling for control of the island of Punjab.
Police officals have confirmed the casualties and hostage-taking situation.
"The SHO (station house officer) of Bangla Acha police station, Hanif Ghouri, is among those abducted by the gang of Ghulam Rasool, alias Chottu," officials said.
Chottu, 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.
Police commandos moved into the thickly forested hideouts of the Chottu gang in the Kacha Jamal area on Tuesday night. The heavily-armed gangsters fired indiscriminately at the advancing police party, killing six and forcing the rest to retreat.
"Yesterday, police commandos mounted another operation to recover the bodies but the gangsters put up a fierce fight and abducted 15 of the policemen," officials were quoted as saying by the Express Tribune.
The police has not been able to achieve any significant success so far, forcing officials to use aerial attack on the hideouts of the gangsters.
Now, the police have decided to use air power to soften the target before mounting a ground operation. The Punjab government has requested the Pakistan Army to deploy two helicopter gunships for air raids ? and two helipads have been set up in the Kacha Sounmiani area for this purpose, said District Police Officer Ghulam Mubashir Maikan.
Over 100 gangsters with the Chottu gang have 54 cases of murders, dacoities and kidnapping registered against it in police stations across South Punjab, Maikan said.
He added that the next 24 hours were important as Operation Zarb-e-Aahan has entered the final phase.
"So far, we have arrested 110 facilitators of the gangsters, and soon the Kacha area will be purged of them," he claimed.