The fighting in South Waziristan continues for the third straight day. The military estimated over 90 Taliban were killed after ambushing a convoy and assaulting a fort. Both engagements were initiated by the Taliban.
In the first engagement, the Pakistani military claimed the Taliban ambushed a military convoy on the Jandola-Wana Road in South Waziristan. “The security forces retaliated and engaged militants/miscreants with small arms and rockets,” according to The Associated Press of Pakistan, the government’s official press agency. “The fire fight continued for an hour. Exact number of miscreant’s casualties is not known, however, it is estimated that 20 to 30 miscreants were killed.”
The second engagement involved a Taliban-massed assault on the Ladha Fort. The Taliban reportedly launched the coordinated assault using mortars and assault rifles. “A large number of miscreants started gathering around north of the fort at 3 p.m.,” according to The Associated Press of Pakistan report. “Security Forces used artillery, mortars and small arms fire to engage the miscreants. Reportedly, 50 to 60 miscreants were killed and rest of them dispersed. The security forces suffered no [casualties].”
While the incidents are more than common in Pakistan’s tribal agencies of North and South Waziristan, the unbalanced casualties are not. The Pakistani military claimed only four wounded while claiming to inflict 90 kills on the Pakistani forces. Pakistani troops, particularly the paramilitary Frontier Corps stationed in the region, have suffered high casualties during engagements with the Taliban.
Today’s reports of fighting in South Waziristan follow two days of Taliban assaults on two forts on the Afghan border. 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.
On Jan. 17, the Frontier Corps manning the Saklatoi Fort abandoned the outpost after receiving threats from the Taliban. About 40 paramilitary soldiers fled the post without a fight.
The Taliban claimed it captured 60 soldiers during the Saklatoi incident. “There were 60 soldiers from Frontier Corps in the fort, and all of them did not offer resistance,” said Maulavi Omar, the spokesman for Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud. He said the Taliban later released the soldiers and were now advancing on the Serwakai Fort.
“By capturing military forts and making soldiers hostage, we want to exert pressure on the government to accept our demands,” Omar told the Pak Tribune. “These [demands] are very simple. We have continuously been asking the government to halt military operations, release Lal Masjid Khateeb (prayers leader) Maulana Abdul Aziz and all other male and female students of religious schools arrested from Islamabad and other parts of the country.”
The government disputes the reports the Saklatoi Fort was abandoned, and claims its soldiers still occupy the outpost. “Absolutely baseless and I reject this report,” said Major General Athar Abbas, the military spokesman. “I want to clarify that the Pakistan Army and the Frontier Corps personnel are still present in the fort.”
The same day the Taliban took the Saklatoi Fort, the Taliban struck in Peshawar, the provincial capital. A teenaged suicide bomber detonated outside a Shia mosque, killing 10 and wounding 25. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which serves as al Qaeda’s foot soldiers in Pakistan and has close ties to Baitullah, was behind the attack, security officials told AFP.
“The bomber first fired some shots and then blew himself up,” a security official said. “The modus operandi is the hallmark of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and it shows they have plans to stoke sectarian hatred.”
The Taliban have conducted numerous attacks in Peshawar and the greater Northwest Frontier Province. In December 2007, Pakistani security officials claimed the Taliban planned to launch an offensive against the provincial capital and is looking to occupy the city by June 2008. “Our good luck is that the Taliban have not yet made ground in west (Khyber tribal district), otherwise, Peshawar would have been surrounded from three different directions and it would have been extremely difficult to defend the fort from the three-pronged attack,” one Pakistani official told the Daily Times.
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