PARACHINAR: Helicopter gunships shelled militant hide-outs in northwestern Pakistan today, killing 10 suspected fighters after the Taliban murdered two paramilitary soldiers at an outpost in the area.
The attack on the outpost in Mohmand, one of Pakistan’s semi-autonomous tribal areas, was the latest staged by militants in retaliation for an army offensive against the Taliban’s main stronghold in Pakistan’s northwest.
Militants hope the attacks will weaken the army’s resolve and have shown a growing willingness to target innocent civilians in an attempt to weaken public support for the offensive.
A suicide car bomber attacked a crowded market in northwestern Pakistan yesterday, killing 26 people, the fourth such attack in about a month.
Pakistani officials have blamed such attacks on the Taliban, but the group has reportedly denied being behind at least some of the blasts, sparking conspiracy theories and making it more difficult for the government to convert public anger into greater support for its crackdown on militants.
“I think the government itself is making these blasts, or the Taliban,” Muzamal Khan told AP Television News as he attended today’s funeral for the victims of the latest market bombing.
“But the Taliban is saying we are not involved in these blasts, so it means the government is involved or foreign countries like India or Afghans who live here illegally or American spies.” Others blame the violence on the government’s alliance with the United States, which supports the army offensive in South Waziristan because Pakistan’s tribal belt is home to many Taliban and al-Qaida militants involved in attacks on Western troops across the border in Afghanistan.
“I think if foreign policy changes, and we finish our friendship with America and infidels and stop military operations which are going on in different places, then this bombing problem will solve itself,” said Mulana Gohar Shah, another man attending today’s funeral.
Dozens of militants armed with automatic weapons and rocket launchers attacked the paramilitary outpost just outside Bai Zai town in Mohmand before dawn this morning, said an intelligence officer and local government official. Two soldiers were killed in the attack and three injured, they said.
The bodies of the two dead soldiers that officials found Wednesday had been decapitated, said another local government official, Maqsood Khan. Thirty-two soldiers, many of them from a nearby outpost, are still missing, said Khan. He declined to say whether they had fled or were captured.
But the Taliban spokesman in the area, Ikramullah Mohmand, who claimed responsibility for the attack, said the group had not taken any prisoners. He said the Taliban had killed 10 soldiers during the assault. The conflicting claims could not be independently verified.
The militant hide-outs that were shelled by helicopter gunships following the attack were located in Bai Zai, said the intelligence officer and local government official. The assault killed 10 suspected militants, they said.