By Mushtaq Yusufzai & Irfan Burki
PESHAWAR/WANA: Seven people — four of them Armymen — were killed and 33 others, including 21 soldiers, injured in attacks on a military convoy in North Waziristan Agency (NWA) and air strikes in South Waziristan Agency (SWA) on Friday.
The attack on security forces’ convoy jeopardised the Feb 17, 2008 peace accord between the government and Hafiz Gul Bahadur-led Taliban militants in the volatile North Waziristan Agency, bordering Afghanistan’s restive Khost province.
Military officials based in the North Waziristan Agency blamed the local militants for the attack. They claimed to have intercepted conversations of senior militant commanders, asking their fighters to continue attacking security forces and government installations, as their peace accord with the government had already been scrapped.
They said militant commanders, however, decided not to make public their decision of scrapping the peace deal, as they could lose sympathies of tribesmen. “We were aware of their terrorist activities and attacks on security forces but we kept silence in the larger interest of poor tribesmen. But now I must say the government might launch a full-scale operation in the North Waziristan Agency,” said an official, wishing anonymity.
Official sources told The News a military convoy, which had left Miramshah, headquarters of the North Waziristan Agency, for Bannu came under attack near an abandoned flourmill in the town.
Militants had planted heavy explosives material close to the wall of the roadside factory, which went off when the heavily-guarded military convoy was passing through the area. Four soldiers died on the spot while 18 others were injured, some of them critically. The injured soldiers were later airlifted and shifted to a military hospital in Bannu.
Security forces immediately cordoned off the area and blocked the Bannu-Miramshah road for all kinds of traffic for four hours. Later in the day, security forces arrived in large numbers and started demolishing the factory building with the help of bulldozers so that the militants could not use it for terrorist acts in future.
The owner of the flourmill had closed it several years ago and portions of the building had been demolished by tribesmen. The same military convoy again came under attack when it reached the Naurak village in Mirali subdivision. Suspected militants attacked the military convoy through an improvised explosives device (IED). Three soldiers were injured in the blast, which caused damage to a few vehicles.
The military officials finally decided to stop their journey on the dangerous Bannu-Miramshah road when another IED was recovered near the Kajhori post in Mirali. The military convoy was then taken to a nearby FC camp and ordered not to leave the area till the situation became normal.
The violence-stricken Utmanzai Wazir tribesmen in the North Waziristan Agency were in great shock over the attack on the military convoy. They condemned the attack and termed it an invitation to disaster.
“Like the rest of the areas, the militants will remain safe but we will suffer in case of a military operation,” a seemingly-terrified tribal elder remarked when approached by The News in Miramshah.
Sources close to the militants said though the Taliban in the North Waziristan Agency had not yet claimed responsibility for the attack, they were demanding an end to the ongoing military operation in Janikhel and Bakakhel villages of FR Bannu.
Meanwhile, three suspected militants, including an Uzbek national, were reportedly killed and 12 others injured in air strikes carried out by PAF planes and gunship helicopters on alleged hideouts of Baitullah Mehsud in the adjoining South Waziristan Agency.
Official sources, however, claimed higher death toll in the bombing and artillery shelling. Three fighter jets pounded suspected positions of the Taliban commander at Ladha, Seegagarai, Ladha Sarai, Ashanki Gudawai, Makeen, Dwatoi and Piaza villages.
According to the sources, the PAF planes after making a few rounds of flights over the region started heavy bombing on the militants’ positions. The tribal region reportedly echoed with two dozen explosions. Tribesmen in Miramshah said they heard heavy explosions when the planes pounded Makeen in the South Waziristan Agency.
However, they were not aware of any human losses as communication to the area was suspended since the military operation was launched. Military officials said three militants, including an Uzbek, were killed in Makeen.
According to the sources, 12 injured militants were brought to a private health centre in Makeen, five of them in serious condition. The sources among the militants said they had now started burying their dead during night time after the recent drone attack on the funeral procession of slain militant commander Khwaz Wali Mehsud in Makeen. Tribal sources said several shops were destroyed in Shamankhel village of Ladha subdivision in the bombing.