The death toll from the cross-border attack on checkposts in Chitral climbed to 32 on Sunday, as six more bodies of Chitral scouts were recovered.
Exchange of firing between Taliban militants and security forces has been intermittent.
The attack in the Arandu tehsil of Chitral started at around 4am on Saturday, and the fighting continued throughout the day.
Updated from print edition (below)
28 dead as TTP men attack border posts
Hundreds of Pakistani Taliban fighters mounted pre-dawn raids on paramilitary posts in Chitral district of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa on Saturday after crossing over from their sanctuary in northeastern Afghanistan, officials said.
At least 28 security personnel were killed in the attack, according to District Coordination Officer (DCO) Rehmatullah Wazir.
Several militant leaders from the outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), including Maulana Fazlullah and Maulvi Faqir who led the group in Swat and Bajaur, respectively, fled to Afghanistan in the face of army offensives and regrouped with the help of allies to threaten Pakistan’s border regions.
These militants have set up a base in the Sawoo Khwar area, in Damghan district of the Afghan province of Kunar, an intelligence official told The Express Tribune by phone from Dir district.
“Saturday’s attack was organised by Maulana Fazlullah, Maulvi Faqir and their lieutenants Miftakhudin, alias Shabar and Hafizullah, alias Kochwan,” the official said. The TTP’s Malakand chapter has claimed responsibility for the attack in a telephone call to the BBC. The group’s spokesperson Sirajuddin claimed that 70 soldiers were killed in the attack and another seven were seized by the militants.
“The attack was planned in the Barikot village in Kunar province. Over 200 Pakistani fugitive militants, aided by 100 local Afghans crossed over into the Arnavi area of Chitral district around 4am. They had around a dozen horses loaded with arms and ammunition,” the official said.
According to local sources, the outposts of Ursun and Mir Khani were targeted in the limits of Drosh police station and Gudibar, Drashot, Langurbut, Kavti and Akori posts in the limits of the Arandu police station. They added that two personnel of Chitral Scouts – Nazir and Tariq Jala – were missing from Langurbut post after the attack.
“The security personnel defended the posts by engaging the attackers and reportedly 20 terrorists were killed,” the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said in a statement.
But the intelligence official told The Express Tribune that 10 militants were killed. The fleeing militants took away the bodies of eight of their fallen comrades, while two bodies were taken into custody by the security forces.
The military statement also confirmed that 25 troops – 16 personnel of the paramilitary Chitral Scouts, four policemen and five Levies, or Chitral Border Force – were also killed in the attack. However, Chitral’s DCO Rehmatullah Wazir put the death toll at 28 dead and seven injured. A local source told The Express Tribune that the death toll could be higher because there was no word about 40 troops at the remote Akori post. However, there was no official confirmation of that.
The attack in the Arandu tehsil of Chitral started at around 4am, and the fighting continued throughout the day. A security official in Peshawar said the fighting has stopped, but the security forces are still combing the area for the militants. They have also dynamited two bridges to thwart possible militant movement in the cover of the darkness.
Nato troops, Afghan army faulted
The statement accused the US-led Nato troops and the Afghan National Army (ANA) of not acting on its intelligence against militants, who are launching cross-border raids into Pakistan territory from the Afghan side.
“Due to scanty presence of Nato and ANA forces along the Pak-Afghan border, the terrorists are using these areas as safe havens and have mounted repeated attacks against security forces posts and isolated villages of Pakistan,” the statement said.
Since their expulsion from Swat, Dir and Bajaur, “the terrorists have organised themselves in Kunar and Nuristan provinces with the support of local Afghan authorities,” it said.
When approached, Ghulab Majnoon, a senior official at Afghan embassy in Islamabad, refused to comment saying he was not authorised to speak on the matter while the ambassador was present in the mission. However, the ambassador could not be reached despite repeated attempts.
The governor of Nuristan province denied any official support network for TTP in his province. “These are Pakistani Taliban who have been mounting cross-border attacks in Pakistani border villages,” Tameem Nuristani told The Express Tribune by phone from Nuristan. He pointed out that around a month ago the Pakistani Taliban had colluded with the Afghan Taliban and attacked Afghan police, killing around 35 people.
The Afghan charge d’affaires was summoned to the Foreign Office and a protest was lodged over the ‘attacks from Kunar and Nuristan against seven Pakistani check posts in Chitral. “The Afghan charge d’affaires was conveyed the imperative of establishing peace and tranquillity in the border region and effectively dealing with terrorists,” said a statement issued from the Foreign Office.
Musa Arifi assured Pakistan that his country would investigate the attack. “The Afghan deputy ambassador conveyed condolences to the Pakistani government over the losses of lives and assured investigation into the incident,” an Afghan embassy official told The Express Tribune, requesting anonymity. The Afghan embassy has informed the Afghan foreign ministry about Islamabad’s protest which will come out with a formal reply.
The frequency of incursions by Taliban has increased over the past few months as militants from the Afghan side launched brazen attacks in Upper and Lower Dir districts, and Bajaur and Mohmand tribal agencies.
(With additional input by Tahir Khan in Islamabad)
Published in The Express Tribune, August 28th, 2011.