31 killed in SWA clashes
Monday, June 01, 2009
By Mushtaq Yusufzai &
Twenty-five militants, including a senior commander of Baitullah Mehsud-led Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Miraj Burki, and six soldiers were killed and several others injured in the deadly clashes between the militants and security forces in the South Waziristan Agency (SWA) tribal region on Sunday night.
Other reports said 13 soldiers were killed and over two dozens injured in the two deadly attacks. Fierce fighting between the militants and security forces forced thousands of the tribal families to leave their homes in the Mehsud-inhabited areas.
The latest clashes erupted with two different attacks on security post and a military convoy by the militants at Spinkai Raghzai and Tiarza areas of the restive region.In the first attack, which took place on the night between Saturday and Sunday, the militants opened fire on a security post located on hilltop in Spinkai Raghzai area.
According to sources, three soldiers were killed and six others seriously injured in the attack. Also, four soldiers went missing during the clashes and suspected to be kidnapped by the militants. There were reports that the militants beheaded them and threw their bodies in the mountains.
Military officials said though it was dark and the attack was unexpected, the soldiers retaliated and inflicted heavy losses on the Taliban fighters. Military spokesman, Maj Gen Athar Abbas, when reached by telephone, said 15 militants were killed when the troops fired back. Similarly, he said, several other militants were injured in retaliatory firing by the troops.
Similarly, three soldiers, including a lieutenant, were killed and some others injured in an ambush on a military convoy by Taliban near Tiarza on Saturday evening. The convoy was heading towards Tiarza from Shakai when came under attack.
The militants were not happy with the reinforcement of the security forces in the Mahsuds inhabited areas, which happen to be strongholds of the Baitullah-led militants. According to sources, commander Meraj Burki, who was a senior militant commander of Baitullah Mahsud-led TTP and his Shura member, had led dozens of fighters to ambush the military convoy.
The sources said it was well-organised attack organised by the 45-year old commander, Meraj, in which the militants fired on the convoy from various directions. The troops were reported to have suffered heavy losses and their vehicles damaged.
Military authorities said the troops retaliated and killed 10 militants. Tribal sources confirmed the killing of six militants in retaliatory firing by the security forces. Tribal elders in Tiarza said they received reports that commander Meraj had been killed in retaliatory firing by the troops. However, they said bodies of the slain commander and his five colleagues were in the custody of the security forces. Efforts were being made for receiving their bodies from the security forces.
Maj-Gen Athar Abbas said both the attacks came from the militants. He said the troops did not fire first and retaliated when came under attack by the terrorists. “The troops were there to consolidate their positions and had no offensive designs. No body can even prove that the soldiers had fired first,” the military spokesman argued.
Tribal sources said the security forces Sunday evening started heavy artillery shelling from FC camps in Jandola and Manzai towards suspected locations of the militants in Kotkai, Tiarza, Ladha, Makeen and Srarogha villages.
The militants attacked security forces at a time when a 15-member jirga of the Mahsud tribal elders and clerics was negotiating between the government and Baitullah Mahsud.Senator Saleh Shah, who is leading the jirga members in recent negotiations between the two sides, admitted that both the factions even agreed on ceasefire.
Asked would he and his jirga members now blame Taliban for violation of their ceasefire offer, Saleh Shah said though they were not happy over what happened in Waziristan, but the government had also committed violation and sent the troops to various places where the Taliban did not want them to be deployed.
He said the jirga would continue its efforts for restoration of peace and would leave for South Waziristan on Tuesday to hold talks with Baitullah Mahsud and his commanders for ensuring durable peace in the region.
The fighting caused mass exodus of the Mahsud tribespeople and many families were seen Sunday leaving their homes for safer places in Razmak, Bannu, Tank and Dera Ismail Khan.Though announced several times, the government is yet to set up camps for the internally displaced persons (IDPs) of South Waziristan Agency.
Majority of the fleeing tribespeople were reportedly taking shelters with their relatives, friends and even with strange people in the downtowns. AFP adds: “According to fresh reports we received from the site, more than 45 militants died,” Syed Ahmad, a police official in the tribal area, told AFP. Khan Badshah, another local official, confirmed that death toll and said the rebels had taken most of the bodies away for funeral rites. NEWS 1-6-09