PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AFP) – Militant attacks killed six troops in Pakistan’s tribal belt, where soldiers backed by warplanes and helicopter gunships are pressing a major anti-Taliban offensive, officials said Monday.
The first attack, late Sunday, left four soldiers dead in Makin, one of the battlefields where ground troops are pressing an operation against the homegrown Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) network into a fourth week.
Military officials said initially that the soldiers died in an improvised explosive device (IED) attack — of the type deployed by the Taliban to such deadly effect against US and NATO troops across the border in Afghanistan.
But the army press office later issued a statement saying militants fired rockets at a security checkpost, killing the four soldiers and wounding one other. Eight militants were killed, the statement said.
Further to the north in the lawless tribal belt, where US officials say Al-Qaeda are plotting attacks on the West, a roadside bomb killed two paramilitary soldiers in Bajaur district, officials said.
The soldiers were travelling at the time in a vehicle to take up duty at the strategic Mullahsaid Top checkpoint, 40 kilometres (25 miles) northeast of Khar, the main town of Bajaur.
“Two soldiers were killed and one injured in an IED attack,” tribal administration official Abdul Hameed Khan told AFP.
Paramilitary and intelligence officials confirmed Monday’s incident and toll.
Officials say the Taliban have stepped up attacks in Bajaur to deflect attention away from South Waziristan, where around 30,000 Pakistani troops are pressing their most ambitious offensive to date against the TTP.
Makin is one of the most notorious Taliban-held towns in South Waziristan and close to where former TTP chief Baitullah Mehsud had a house, which the military said Friday had been demolished.
A US missile attack killed Mehsud on August 5 in South Waziristan, part of the border area with Afghanistan that Washington calls the most dangerous place in the world because of an abundance of Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters.
The military says around 480 militants and 46 soldiers have been killed since the offensive began, but security officials and analysts say that many Islamist rebels have simply fled rather than staying to fight.
The military provides the only regular information coming from the frontlines. None of the details can be verified because communication lines are down and journalists and aid workers barred from the area.