Deteriorating Situation in South Waziristan
By Our Correspondent: Dawn, January 17, 2008
WANA, Jan 16: Hundreds of militants captured a paramilitary fort in South Waziristan on Tuesday night after killing 22 militiamen and taking several others hostage, credible sources told Dawn.
The sources said that 600 to 700 militants attacked the fort in Sararogha, manned by the South Waziristan Scouts, at around 9pm on Tuesday, firing rockets and mortars.
Thirty-eight paramilitary soldiers and six civilians, including cooks, barbers and orderlies, were in the fort when it came under the assault.
“Soldiers put up a good fight, but couldn’t hold out for long in the face of an overwhelming militant force,” a source said.
The last distress radio message, according to him, was made at around 3am to the Ludda Fort, asking for artillery fire at the militants who had broken through the defences and begun pouring into the base.
The sources said that 15 militiamen died in the battle, which lasted for nearly six hours.
Initial reports said that 22 soldiers had gone missing. According to another report, at least seven of them were beheaded by the militants.
The remaining soldiers were believed to have been taken hostage by the militants.
The sources said that seven paramilitary soldiers who had managed to escape to Ludda told their bosses that six Taliban had been killed in the attack.
One of them was said to be from the Kurram tribal region, another a local Mehsud tribesman and the remaining four were believed to be Uzbeks.
The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) on Wednesday said that seven of the Frontier Corps militiamen had been killed in the onslaught by approximately 200 militants.
It claimed that 40 militants had fallen in the gun battle. Fifteen soldiers escaped and reached Jandola Fort. The fate of the rest was not known, the ISPR said.
A spokesman for the Tehrik-i-Taliban claimed killing 16 scouts and capturing 24.
Militant groups had coalesced into a single force last month.
Taliban spokesman Maulvi Umar told Dawn that militant commander Baitullah Mahsud had led the charge on the British-era fort. He claimed the Taliban had lost only two of their men in the fighting.
Sources told Dawn that the militants had abandoned the fort after seizing arms and ammunition left behind by the paramilitary unit.
According to eyewitnesses, the militants captured several soldiers and slaughtered many of them.
The locals said that after capturing the compound the militants took away weapons, communication tools and blew up the building with explosives.
The also cut off water supply to some of the paramilitary forts. Officials acknowledged that they had been anticipating attacks for quite some time.
“The forts were well-stocked and soldiers had been told to fight to the last man, the last bullet. The soldiers did put up a good fight in a seemingly hopeless situation,” one official said.
It was not clear why the government did not make any effort to either come to the rescue of the besieged soldiers or send in attack helicopters.
The security forces fired mortar shells and heavy machine guns to repulse the attackers. Residential areas also came under attack in which two tribesmen were killed.
South Waziristan tribal region administrator Fazl Rabi convened a jirga of elders of the Mahsud tribe to get back bodies and get kidnapped soldiers freed.
The sources said the elders had refused to approach the Taliban unless the security forces held their fire.
Also see: Army claims success in Swat operation: Militancy almost wiped out