July 12, 2008 | FDD’s Long War Journal

Taliban kill Pakistani soldiers in ambush in Hangu

The security situation in the settled district of Hangu has rapidly deteriorated over the past week as the Taliban has laid siege to a police station and threatened local security forces. In the latest incident, the Taliban ambushed a Pakistani military convoy in Hangu and killed more than a dozen soldiers, according to reports emerging form the region.

Twenty-two Pakistanis were killed after the Taliban ambushed a three-vehicle convoy traveling in the region. Fifteen soldiers, a government official, four civilians, and one Taliban fighter were reported to be among those killed. The Taliban claimed to have seized the three military vehicles. Pakistani forces struck back with artillery, and Cobra helicopter gunships are said to have been called in for support.

Today's attack on the Pakistani military convoy was preceded by arrests and clashes earlier this week. On July 8, a police force detained seven Taliban fighters after a clash in Hangu. Security forces found weapons and explosives as well as “poisonous injections,” according to Rehman Malik, Pakistan's Federal Advisor for Interior Affairs.

One of those captured was Rafiuddin, a senior Taliban leader and a deputy of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud. “The group confessed its links with Baitullah Mehsud,” Geo News reported. Rafiuddin's group is based out of South Waziristan, which borders Hangu.

The Taliban then launched a siege of the police station where Rafiuddin and the other fighters were held. A “400-strong force” surrounded the police station surrounded the station, but dispersed after a Pakistani Army battalion was dispatched to lift the siege.

Before retreating, the Taliban kidnapped anywhere from 16 to 35 people in Hangu, including security officials, and then threatened to execute them if Rafiuddin were not released from custody. Mullah Omar, a spokesman for Baitullah Mehsud, said the executions would begin today.

The fighting in Hangu is the latest incident in the worsening security situation in Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province, where the Taliban are expanding their reach beyond the tribal areas into the settled districts. Attacks are occurring on a daily basis throughout the Northwest Frontier Province and the tribal areas even as the government is negotiating with the Taliban.

The government launched an operation in the Khyber agency in the beginning of July to clear the region of extremists threatening the provincial capital of Peshawar. Khyber also serves as the gateway to Afghanistan; more than 70 percent of NATO's supplies flow from Peshawar through the Torkham Gate in Khyber.

The Khyber operation ended after 10 days. The government signed a peace agreement with the Lashkar-e-Islam that resulted in all of those detained to be freed in an exchange for promises to not attack government forces.

Peace agreements have been signed with the Taliban in North Waziristan, Swat, Dir, Bajaur, Malakand, Mohmand, and Khyber. Negotiations are under way in South Waziristan, Kohat, and Mardan. The Taliban have violated the terms of these agreements in every region where accords have been signed.