PESHAWAR/JAMRUD: Tribal militants ambushed a paramilitary convoy on Monday, killing nine troops in a region where security forces have been fighting militants for over three years now.
The attack in the Bara subdivision of Khyber Agency triggered a gunfight which also left 14 militants dead.
“Dozens of militants ambushed a Frontier Corps convoy in the Akakhel area of Bara, killing nine troops and injuring another three,” a senior military official in Peshawar told The Express Tribune.
“The Quick Reaction Force of the FC engaged the militants in a gunfight minutes after the attack, killing 14 of them,” said the official, who wished not to be named because he was not authorised to speak to the media on the matter.
Military spokesperson Maj-Gen Athar Abbas confirmed the attack but did not say how many troops were killed. “The attack continued for two to three hours, and there have been casualties in the ambush. There have been killings of the terrorists as well,” he told AFP.
Residents told The Express Tribune that paramilitary troops were conducting a search operation in the Misri Khan Killay area, southeast of Bara.
(Read: Khyber Agency - This is Bara, the town that militancy ruined)
The top government administrator in Bara subdivision confirmed the residents’ version. “Around 30 militants attacked FC troops during a search operation. They came under attack from a small hill where militants were hiding,” Assistant Political Agent Rehan Gul Khattak told AFP. “The attack damaged several FC vehicles, including a jeep which was totally destroyed.”
However, other official sources had a different account. They said the FC convoy was taking food rations for paramilitary troops stationed in the Akakhel area when it was attacked.
The Misri Khan Killay area is a stronghold of Lashkar-e-Islam (LeI) extremist group which is led by notorious commander Mangal Bagh Afridi. A spokesperson for the group claimed responsibility for the attack in a telephone call to The Express Tribune. He said only one LeI fighter was killed in the clash.
Residents said that helicopter gunships are continuously hovering over the area where the clash took place.
Mangal Bagh and his loyalists were routed from their headquarters in Bara as a result of a series of security operations in the Khyber Agency since 2008. However, Bara Bazaar remains under curfew since.
(Read: Militancy - Mangal Bagh loosens grip over Khyber Agency)
Monday’s attack came amid mounting tensions between Pakistan and Afghanistan over cross-border attacks. Islamabad believes that Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan and their senior cadres, who were routed from tribal regions and parts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, are using Afghanistan’s eastern provinces as a springboard to mount attacks on security forces in the border regions.
Maj-Gen Athar Abbas told Reuters in an interview that Afghan and US-led forces had failed to hunt down Mullah Fazlullah, a Taliban cleric responsible for a spate of cross-border raids, despite repeated requests from Islamabad.
About 100 members of the security forces have been killed in such attacks. “The problem refuses to go away,” Maj-Gen Abbas said.
Fazlullah and hundreds of his fighters were defeated in their stronghold of Swat as a result of a military operation in 2009. “Now Fazlullah and his group are trying to re-enter Swat through Dir,” said Maj-Gen Abbas.
Asked about Pakistan’s complaint about Fazlullah, Lt Col Jimmie Cummings, a spokesman for Nato’s International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) in Afghanistan, said: “We are working with Pakistan to achieve our shared goals of lasting stability and security in Afghanistan and the broader region.”
Afghanistan’s spy agency rejected the charge and instead blamed Pakistan-based militants for carrying out attacks in Afghanistan.
“Terrorist groups usually come from the other side of the border and do some attacks,” said Lutfullah Mashal, the spokesperson for the National Directorate of Security.
(With additional input from agencies)
Published in The Express Tribune, October 18th, 2011.
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