Pakistani army convoy ambushed

Attack kills 12 soldiers, wounds 15 on way to join hunt for al-Qaida fighters

March 24, 2004|By COX NEWS SERVICE

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Unknown attackers killed at least 12 Pakistani soldiers and wounded 15 as they traveled to join the hunt near the Afghanistan border for fighters linked to al-Qaida, military officials said yesterday.

The officials said a Pakistani army convoy was ambushed 30 miles east of Wana late Monday as it moved to join the main battalion in the South Waziristan tribal region.

In an earlier attack Monday, assailants fired rockets on an army checkpoint in Parachinar about 120 miles northeast of Wana, killing three soldiers and wounding four others, a senior security official told the Associated Press.

Reuters later reported that fighting in the region, which had been suspended since last weekend to let tribal leaders conduct negotiations, resumed yesterday.

The attacks reflected growing anger among the famously independent tribal peoples over the military action and its high civilian casualty rate.

Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, under pressure from the United States to act against suspected Islamic militants taking shelter along the mountainous border, launched a strike March 16 that so far has killed more than 30 government soldiers, 13 civilians and 10 fighters.

However, no "high-value" al-Qaida target has been killed or captured in the fighting in three villages in South Waziristan province. The presence of a top al-Qaida leader was the justification Musharraf gave for the attack.

Any remaining hope that a high-level al-Qaida member was surrounded in the battle zone dimmed further yesterday.

"There was no hard evidence showing that [Osama bin Laden's top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri] or someone of that stature was there," Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat told CNN, adding that earlier reports stating this was only "speculation."

The army has captured nearly 130 fighters, only six of whom have been identified as foreigners, Pakistani military officials said.

Resentment against Musharraf, a career officer who took power in a bloodless coup five years ago, has long simmered in the tribal areas. Militant Islamic parties that hold power there have been traditional allies of the Taliban, and they have called for the death of the president for working with the United States in the war against terror.

This resentment has been fanned into anger by the army offensive, coupled with recent military threats to destroy homes and businesses of tribal members and to arrest tribal leaders if foreign militants were not handed over.

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