As Pakistan and the U.S. continue an escalating campaign of attacks on alleged terrorists, ordinary civilians are running for their lives to escape the ongoing violence that has scarred a generation.
In Pakistan's North Waziristan, tens of thousands of people have recently fled to escape the major Pakistani military offense targeting "foreign and local terrorists."
Arshad Khan, director general of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas Disaster Management Authority, told Agence France-Presse that over 90,000 people have fled North Waziristan since last month.
Pakistan's assault on the mountainous area officially began Sunday, and the army states that it has killed roughly 200 militants, though that claim has not been independently confirmed. Defense Minister Khawaja Asif told CNN of the offensive, "We are determined to finish [the militants] off, once and for all."
In press statements, the Pakistan army has declared that it's used "precise strikes" where no civilians were present. It adds that attempts made by terrorists to flee the area "have been foiled"—a claim countered by some refugees who said the terrorists fled upon announcement of the offensive.
The region has also been a frequent target of U.S. drone strikes, but a pause in those attacks ended last week when a pair of strikes on hit North Waziristan and killed 16 people described in media reports as "militants." Another drone attack Wednesday targeted the region again, killing at least 6 people.
A 2012 report from the NYU School of Law and Stanford University Law School entitled Living Under Drones detailed not only the civilian casualties of U.S. drone attacks on Pakistan but described how the drones' "presence terrorizes men, women, and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities."
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Jennifer Gibson, a coauthor of the study and a staff attorney with the UK-based charity Reprieve, wrote that this ever-present feeling of terror "has turned North Waziristan into the world's largest prison, a massive occupied zone."
The ongoing violence and upheaval has a particularly devastating impact on children, and many children in North Waziristan have only known a life of U.S. drone strikes, Taliban, military and other attacks, the humanitarian news and analysis service IRIN reported this week. "Thousands of children [have] lost their childhood," Dr. Mian Iftikhar Hussain, who operates a clinic outside Peshawar, told IRIN.
"I didn't want to leave but my children developed serious mental problems because of the bombings by fighter jets and heavy artillery shelling by security forces there," 48-year-old Khair Mohammad, who fled with his extended family to Bannu, located just outside of North Waziristan, told Reuters.
With only enough time and ability to grab few belongings, the fleeing residents were forced to leave much behind. "If I could, I would have brought my cow and other cattle. We left them behind and it was like leaving children behind," 47-year-old bank manager Wali Khan told Reuters through tears.
AFP reports that curfew restrictions had been eased Wednesday in some of the region's towns to allow for civilians to escape, indicating a likely escalation in the military campaign.
Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said Monday that the offensive underway "would be the beginning of an era of peace and tranquility."