x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Pakistan troops free hostages

Pakistani troops have stormed army headquarters in the garrison city of Rawalpindi to end a day-long hostage drama.

Pakistani troops stormed army headquarters today to end a day-long hostage drama, freeing 39 people held by militants who brazenly struck at the heart of the military establishment. Thee hostages, two soldiers and four militants were killed in a rescue operation hailed by the military as "highly successful" despite a total of 19 killed since the rebels launched their assault. Six soldiers and four other militants had already been killed in the 24-hour siege, which began on Saturday in the garrison city of Rawalpindi and was the third dramatic militant strike in the nuclear-armed nation in a week.

The audacious attack exposed Pakistan's vulnerability in the face of a Taliban militia who have regrouped after the death of their leader and are determined to thwart an army assault on their tribal hideouts, analysts said. Major General Athar Abbas, a military spokesman, said troops went in at about 6am (midnight GMT) and met with resistance from five militants barricaded in the building with captive security personnel.

"The operation is over. It was highly successful. We have rescued the hostages in a such a large number," he told state-run television. One militant fled, but was later injured by security forces and arrested, Maj Gen Abbas added. Another senior military official said 39 hostages had been freed, while three were killed in the rescue operation. The military released photographs of the four militants killed on Saturday, all young men with shreds of olive-green army uniforms still visible on the corpses.

The drama unfolded just before midday on Saturday, when nine Taliban gunmen in military uniform and armed with automatic weapons and grenades drove up to the compound and shot their way through one checkpost. Four militants and six soldiers were killed near a second post but the rest of the rebels fled during the firefight, taking military employees hostage in a building near the army HQ in the city adjoining the capital Islamabad.

A security official requesting anonymity told AFP that a brigadier and a lieutenant-colonel were among the dead. In London, the visiting US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the attack underlined the extremist threat in Pakistan - on the frontlines of the US war on al-Qa'eda - and officials here immediately blamed the Taliban. "They are the enemies of Islam and Pakistan. All their actions are against the sovereignty of Pakistan," the interior minister Rehman Malik said on a local television station.