A sketch map of North and South Waziristan. Map from The Khyber Gateway. Click to view.
Just one day after the military spokesman denied the fort in Saklatoi fell to the Taliban, Pakistani special forces launched an operation to retake the outpost. Meanwhile, heavy fighting was reported in the Chagmalai region, where the Frontier Corps maintains an outpost.
Pakistani commandos of the Special Services Group launched a helicopter assault on the Saklatoi Fort on Saturday. A platoon of Special Services Group commandos backed by a platoon of Frontier Corps paramilitaries stormed the compound after a heavy battle, the Pakistani military said.
Eight Taliban were killed, the military reported. The military did not release information on the number of Pakistani troops lost in the assault. The Taliban launched a mortar attack on the fort shortly after retreating.
The Saklatoi fort fell to the Taliban on Jan. 18. Frontier Corps soldiers abandoned the fort after receiving threats from the Taliban. Twenty-two Frontier Corps soldiers who fled at Saklatoi are still missing.
The Saklatoi raid comes just one day after Pakistan’s military spokesman denied the fort was overrun. The loss of Saklatoi is “absolutely baseless and I reject this report,” said Major General Athar Abbas on Friday. “I want to clarify that the Pakistan Army and the Frontier Corps personnel are still present in the fort.”
Pakistan’s Special Service Group during the assault on the Red Mosque in Islamabad in July 2007. Click to view.
Heavy fighting was also reported in Chagmalai, where the Frontier Corps also man a fort. The clashes began after the Taliban ambushed a military convoy in the region. The military said 40 Taliban were captured and 10 killed during a battle in the region after reinforcements were sent to Chagmalai fort.
“Security forces launched an operation in the Chagmalai area last night and captured 40 militants,” Abbas said. “The village has been completely cleared of the militants.”
The military also launched artillery barrages and helicopter gunship and aircraft raids against the Mehsud tribal areas in Saklatoi, Chagmalai, Sararogha, Ladha, and Makeen. Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan and a Mehsud tribal leader, was last reported to be in Makeen at the end of December 2008 after claiming credit for Benazir Bhutto’s assassination.
Saturday’s fighting occurred after the military said it killed 60 Taliban in Ladha and another 30 near Saklatoi. The Taliban ambushed a convoy in Saklatoi and attacked the Ladha Fort. The Taliban denied it took large casualties in the fighting.
The Pakistani press is reporting the military may be preparing to launch an offensive against the Taliban in Makeen. “Sources said that all arrangements had been finalized for a massive offensive against the militants hiding in the Mehsud-populated areas of South Waziristan,” the Pak Tribune reported. “Thousands of fresh Pakistan Army contingents were taken to Razmak in North Waziristan who, at any time, could enter the nearby Makeen area.” The North Waziristan Taliban fired at least 14 rockets at the Razmak military base of Saturday.
The Taliban beat back a military offensive in North and South Waziristan in October 2007.
See The Fall of the Northwest Frontier Province for the full history of the rise of the Taliban and al Qaeda in Pakistan’s tribal regions and beyond.
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