Fierce fighting in S Waziristan 22 militants, six soldiers killed in operation -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Fierce fighting in S Waziristan 22 militants, six soldiers killed in operation

By Mushtaq Yusufzai & Irfan Burki

PESHAWAR/WANA: Twenty-two suspected militants and six soldiers were reportedly killed in a daylong military action against the Baitullah Mehsud-led Taliban in the South Waziristan Agency (SWA) on Saturday as the troops cleared a portion of the Wana-Jandola Road.

Two fighter planes and a couple of gunship helicopters pounded the positions of the militants, who had occupied hilltops and blocked the Wana-Jandola Road between Tanai and Serwakai towns.

Tribal sources told The News from Jandola in the Frontier Region (FR) Tank that troops on Friday night continued shelling the suspected militants’ positions with artillery guns. They were, however, unaware of the casualties suffered by the militants.

Military officials said 32 militants were killed when two warplanes and gunship helicopters bombarded the militants occupying the road between Tanai and Serwakai. They claimed that the Tanai-Serwakai portion of the Wana-Jandola road had been cleared of the militants.

The remaining militants affiliated with Baitullah Mehsud were reported to have fled their positions in the area. However, the militants denied any losses in the operation.

Tribal sources said the advancing troops from Wana, headquarters of the SWA, were facing tough resistance from the militants in efforts to clear the remaining 20-kilometre portion of the road between Serwakai and Jandola.

According to the sources, the troops secured the area beyond Tanai to Old Serwakai, New Serwakai and Madejan. The troops had started movement from Wana and Shakai, two areas inhabited by the Ahmadzai Wazir tribe.

Keeping in view the bad experience of the past when around 35 militants, loyal to Baitullah Mehsud, overpowered and kidnapped over 300 Pakistan Army soldiers, the military authorities this time seem careful about the deployment of the troops in the troubled areas.

Official sources in Jandola said the troops had already been deployed in certain places that until now were in the Taliban control. They said preparations for the big offensive had been finalised but the military authorities first wanted to secure the critical Wana-Jandola Road.

The tribesmen had already fled their villages for relatively safer places in the Tank and Dera Ismail Khan districts and in Razmak, Mirali and Miramshah in the North Waziristan Agency.

The displaced tribesmen complained that the government, despite repeated claims, had done nothing for their relief in Tank, Dera Ismail Khan and other areas.

A pro-government militant commander, Qari Zainuddin Mehsud, who revolted against Baitullah Mehsud and formed his own group named Karwan-e-Abdullah Mehsud, also appealed to the government to assist the displaced tribal families.

“I urge the government to come forward and help the displaced tribesmen so that they could assist us in the ongoing operation against Baitullah Mehsud,” he said in a phone call to The News from an undisclosed location.

The 29-year-old Zainuddin, who is a cousin of late Pakistani Taliban commander, Abdullah Mehsud, claimed that he had already expelled Baitullah Mehsud and his men from Dera Ismail Khan, Tank and Jandola and would now also throw them out of Waziristan.

Akhtar Shahzad adds from Tank: Acting on a tip off, security forces late on Friday night destroyed a suspected vehicle, which was laden with explosive material, intelligence and police sources said.

According to the sources, the vehicle was to be used in suicide bombing. The bomb disposal squad destroyed the vehicle, an 86-model Corolla car, immediately without ascertaining the quantity of the explosives. The explosion rocked the area and was heard far and wide.

The sources said security forces also rounded up eight suspects in a separate raid. Six among those nabbed included Khairullah, Khair Zaman, Noor Azam, Awal Khan, Asim Khan and Tahir Khan.

Meanwhile, the newly-launched group of the militants led by Qari Zainuddin Mehsud, during a meeting with Mehsud tribal elders in Tank town, announced the formation of a committee to monitor the relief activities for the displaced Mehsud families of Waziristan. The group’s spokesman, Misbahuddin Toofan, said the committee would look after and monitor the shifting of families as well as provide facilities to the displaced persons.

Source: The News

Date:6/21/2009