Pakistani troops, Taliban clash in South Waziristan
A sketch map of North and South Waziristan. Map from The Khyber Gateway. Click to view.
The Taliban and the Pakistani military continue fighting in the tribal agency of South Waziristan. The latest battle occurred near the Ladha Fort.
The Pakistani military said a Taliban force attacked the Ladha Fort "before dawn" but was repelled after a four-hour battle that included artillery attacks and helicopter gunships. The Taliban force took heavy casualties, the military claimed. "Through air intercepts [signals intercepts] and our sources we have confirmation now that at least 37 militants were killed when forces retaliated [against] the attack in Ladha," military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said. Seven soldiers were killed and five wounded, Abbas said.
A Taliban spokesman disputed Abbas' claims of heavy Taliban casualties, and said Pakistani soldiers were captured in the assault. Maulvi Omar, a spokesman for Pakistani Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud, said Taliban forces killed 10 Pakistani soldiers and captured 13.
Abbas denied Pakistani soldiers were captured, but statements from the Pakistani military are suspect. Last week, Abbas emphatically denied the Taliban overran the Saklatoi Fort in South Waziristan. The Pakistani military launched an assault to retake the fort just one day later. The Taliban captured the fort after the Frontier Corps abandoned the outpost in the face of Taliban threats.
On Jan. 16, the Taliban overran the Sararogha Fort after conducting a conventional nighttime assault with upwards of 1,000 fighters. The Taliban claimed it killed 16 Frontier Corps soldiers manning the base and captured 24. The military said 40 Taliban and seven soldiers were killed. Twenty-four soldiers are still reported missing. The Taliban still hold the Sararogha Fort.
Today's attack at the Ladha Fort is the third Taliban attempt to overrun the outpost. On Jan. 18, the military claimed it killed "50 to 60 miscreants" during a massed Taliban assault.
The Taliban have initiated a series of offensive attacks against Pakistani military forces in South Waziristan over the past two weeks; all of the major engagements were initiated by Taliban forces. The Taliban has organized into military units and have been attacking in battalion and perhaps brigade-sized formations (units with about 200 to 1,000 fighters).
The Taliban have threatened to retaliate against perceived government incursions into the Mehsud tribal areas. "The government wants to enter the Mehsud area by force," said Taliban spokesman Omar. "But it must take into account the consequences of such a harsh action." He later said the government would have to "pay a heavy price."
The Taliban and the Pakistani security forces have been active outside of South Waziristan. The Taliban shelled the Ramzak military outpost in North Waziristan, where the military is believed to be massing troops for a South Waziristan offensive.
In Mardan in the Northwest Frontier Province, a Taliban force of 30 to 40 fighters broke a security cordon after they were surrounded by Pakistani security forces. The Taliban force, which fled from the fighting in Swat, "used rockets and machine-guns to keep the police away from their positions," Dawn reported.
"What surprised me most was that militants had broken through the security cordon," an unnamed security official told Dawn. "We have no idea how this happened." A unit for the Frontier Corps was providing the cordon. The Taliban have targeted the paramilitary Frontier Corps during clashes in the tribal areas and the Northwest Frontier Province. The Frontier Corps has suffered heavy casualties during battles with the Taliban, and have had hundreds of their ranks killed, captured, or beheaded and mutilated.