x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Taliban kill 11 Pakistani troops

Two dozen among at least 150 Taliban militants were killed in retaliatory fire after they attacked the five checkpoints early morning in north-western Pakistan.

ISLAMABAD // Eleven Pakistani paramilitary soldiers were killed when at least 150 Taliban militants attacked five checkpoints early yesterday morning in north-western Pakistan along the border with Afghanistan. Two dozen militants were killed in retaliatory strikes, according to security officials.

"Till now, 11 soldiers of Frontiers Corps have embraced martyrdom," said a security official who spoke on the condition of anonymity, referring to the paramilitary force that is responsible for security in the volatile tribal regions where the Taliban and al Qa'eda have found safe havens.

Last week, Pakistani military officials said they were on the verge of launching a major military offensive in the region as US drones killed more than 50 militants in the region.

That came just days after a US report on the Afghanistan war called on Islamabad to do more to secure the area.

Analysts said increased US diplomatic pressure and an increase in drone attacks in the territory since October had convinced the Pakistani government it should no longer put off an offensive.

The attacks in the Mohmand district were repulsed with full force, Pakistani officials said, while denying reports that the Taliban had taken soldiers hostage.

The Taliban spokesman for the area, Sajjad Mohmand, had told Agence France-Presse that two paramilitary soldiers had been captured.

Information from the tribal regions is hard to verify as the area is closed to journalists.

A mountainous area with easy escape routes to Afghanistan, Mohmand is a strategically important region where the Taliban have managed to organise men and weapons with relative ease.

The Pakistani army has been fighting in Mohmand for nearly two years but has had little success in clearing it of militants.

On December 6, two suicide bombers dressed as police officers detonated explosive vests at a meeting of hundreds of people with the top civilian official in Mohmand, killing more than 40 and wounding at least 100. The meeting had been called to find ways to stand up to the Taliban.

A Pakistani official said that the “only two regions where our forces have relatively little presence right now are Khyber and Mohmand. So, the militants are trying to capitalize on this.”

The official said there had been drone strikes on Taliban leadership in Tirah, a valley in Khyber, recently. “Maybe, the attacks were in response to them”. But he declined to comment whether the army intended to send reinforcements or start a military operation in Mohmand.

Pakistan has been under immense pressure by the United States to launch a military operation in North Waziristan, another tribal region that is home to the Haqqani group that United States holds responsible for staging and coordinating attacks inside Afghanistan.