The Taliban continue to rampage in the settled district of Hangu in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province. In the latest assault, a Taliban force overran a Frontier Constabulary fort, looted weapons, explosives, and ammunition, then destroyed the outpost.
An estimated 250 Taliban surrounded the fort in the Shinawarai region in Hangu on Monday night and ordered the paramilitary troops to leave. Dawn reported that the paramilitaries were granted “safe passage,” but Geo TV reported 15 troops were killed and five set free. After the troops abandoned the fort, it was looted. The Taliban then set explosive charges and detonated after abandoning the post.
Monday’s destruction of the Shinawarai fort is the latest in a series of Taliban strikes in Hangu over the past week. The fighting began on July 8, after a police force detained seven Taliban fighters after a clash in Hangu. Security forces found weapons and explosives as well as “poisonous injections.” Rafiuddin, a senior Taliban leader and a deputy of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, was captured during the raid. Rafiuddin’s group is based out of South Waziristan, which borders Hangu to the south.
The Taliban then launched a siege on the police station where Rafiuddin and the other fighters were held. A force comprised of 400 Taliban fighters surrounded the police station, but dispersed after a Pakistani Army battalion was dispatched to lift the siege.
Before retreating, the Taliban kidnapped anywhere from 16 to 35 people in Hangu, including security officials, and then threatened to execute them if Rafiuddin were not released from custody. Mullah Omar, a spokesman for Baitullah Mehsud, said the executions would start on July 12, but there is no indication the Taliban followed through on the threat.
On July 12, 22 Pakistanis, including 15 soldiers, were killed after the Taliban ambushed a three-vehicle convoy traveling in the region.
The Pakistani military is said to have launched a counteroffensive “to trace the culprits” of the convoy attack. The military is using artillery indiscriminately in its hunt for the Taliban forces. There are no report of Taliban casualties or of the recovery of hostages.
The tribal leaders in Hangu are urging an end to the operation and lobbying with the government for the release the captive Taliban fighters and their leader. “The jirga members want the government to allow them to take a peace message to Taliban commander Mullah Sanaullah and bring him to the negotiation table,” Dawn reported.
The call for negotiations with the Taliban in Hangu is part of a government-sponsored initiative to cut deals with extremists in exchange for an end to attacks in Pakistan. Peace agreements have been signed with the Taliban in North Waziristan, Swat, Dir, Bajaur, Malakand, Mohmand, and Khyber. Negotiations are under way in South Waziristan, Kohat, and Mardan. The Taliban have violated the terms of these agreements in every region where accords have been signed.
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