Former XI Corps Commander Appointed Secretary Defence

Government of Pakistan on Friday appointed Lt.Gen (R) Asif Yasin Malik as new defence secretary in place of Nargis Sethi who had been given the additional charge of defence ministry’s top bureaucrat in January this year.

Sethi was assigned the job after the dismissal of Lt-Gen (R) Naeem Khalid Lodhi at the peak of a civil-military standoff over the infamous memogate affair.

Malik retired from active service last December as commander of the Peshawar-based 11 Corps. While commanding the corps, he oversaw counter-insurgency operations in tribal areas.The new defence secretary, who had attended training courses in the US, will hit the ground running with signing next week a bilateral MoU with the US on transit of cargo.

The MoU was approved by the federal cabinet this week.

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7 Pakistani Soldiers ‘Beheaded’ by Afghan Militants

Peshawar: The Pakistani military said Monday that seven soldiers had been beheaded by militants who infiltrated from Afghanistan, lashing out at Kabul over cross-border attacks.

The military had already reported that six soldiers were killed in gunbattles with militants Sunday who crossed from Afghanistan into the northwestern district of Upper Dir, a key border transit route that neighbours the Swat valley where Pakistan defeated a local Taliban insurgency in 2009.

Intelligence officials blamed the attack on loyalists of Pakistani cleric Maulvi Fazlullah, who fled to Afghanistan after losing control of Swat to the army.

But on Monday, a military official said 11 soldiers had also gone missing, “out of whom seven soldiers have been reportedly killed and then beheaded”.

The bodies have not been found, but intelligence intercepts indicated that they had been killed, said the senior military official.

The army said more than 100 militants “from a safe haven across the border” attacked troops on patrol. It claimed to have killed 14 militants.

Two rockets and sniper fire were also fired into Lower Dir on Monday, said the official.

Earlier, some reports had put the number of security personnel killed at 10, whereas another report said six were killed with 10 reported to be missing.

Updated reports put the total number of soldiers killed at 13, including the seven now reported to be beheaded in captivity.

Pakistan lodges protest

Pakistan lodged a protest with Nato and Afghan forces Monday, accusing them of failing to act against militant safe havens in Afghanistan, a military official said.

The army “has strongly protested with their counterparts across the border for not taking action against miscreants present in safe haven in Afghanistan,” said the military official.

The foreign ministry said the deputy head of Afghan mission was called to the Foreign Office and a strong protest was lodged on “the intrusion of militants from the Afghan side into Pakistani territory.” The Afghan diplomat was informed that “the government of Afghanistan should take appropriate measures to prevent recurrence of similar incidents in future,” it said.

The Pakistani prime minister on Monday also condemned the attacks and said he would discuss the matter with President Hamid Karzai.

“Pakistan has strongly protested with Afghanistan on the cross-border attacks and I will also take up this issue with Karzai,” Raja Pervez Ashraf told reporters in Karachi.

His office, however, did not elaborate on when such a conversation might take place.

Fazlullah Wahidi, governor of Kumar province, said militants were based in Pakistan, not Afghanistan. “We don’t have any information about militants crossing the border from Afghanistan to attack troops in Pakistan,” he said.

The Nato-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan said it was aware of the report, but had no information.

More attacks threatened

The Malakand faction of the Pakistan Taliban claimed responsibility of the incident, and has threatened more attacks.

“Our fight will continue until the establishment of sharia law in Pakistan … We will fight whoever tries to stand in our way,” Sirajuddin Ahmad, the faction’s spokesman, told Reuters.

Ahmad claimed the group had killed 17 Pakistani soldiers.

The Malakand, or Swat, Taliban are led by Maulvi Fazlullah, who was the Pakistan Taliban leader in the Swat Valley, about 100 miles northwest of Islamabad, before a 2009 army offensive forced him to flee.

Also known as FM Mullah for his fiery radio broadcasts, he regrouped in Afghanistan and established strongholds, according to the Pakistan military.

Fazlullah re-emerged as a threat last year, when his fighters conducted cross-border raids that killed around 100 Pakistani security forces, angering Pakistan, which faces threats from multiple militant groups.

14 Pakistani Troops Martyred in Miran Shah

Taliban fighters martyred 14 Pakistani soldiers in a key militant sanctuary along the Afghan border, beheaded all but one of them and hung two of the heads from wooden poles in the center of town, officials said Monday.

The killings in Miran Shah, the main town in the North Waziristan tribal area, highlight the dilemma facing the military in dealing with an area used by both the country’s fiercest enemy, the Pakistani Taliban, and Afghan and Pakistani militants believed to be close to the government who are battling U.S.-led forces in neighboring Afghanistan.

The U.S. has repeatedly demanded that Pakistan launch an offensive in North Waziristan, especially against the so-called Haqqani network. Pakistan has promised to do so in the future, but claims its forces are stretched too thin right now fighting the Pakistani Taliban in other parts of the tribal region.

“Something has to be done, and it’s in the offing,” Lt. Gen. Khalid Rabbani, the army’s top commander in the northwest, told The Associated Press in an interview Monday. “North Waziristan is the only place left” that hasn’t been the target of an operation, he said.

Many analysts believe Pakistan is reluctant to target militants in North Waziristan with whom it has strong historical ties and could be useful allies in Afghanistan after foreign forces withdraw. But those militants are also allies with the Pakistani Taliban, complicating matters even further.

On Sunday, the Taliban ambushed a security checkpoint in Miran Shah, killing nine Pakistani soldiers, the army said. Militants had been firing on the checkpoint for the past few days before they ambushed it, the army added.

When authorities finally retrieved the bodies of the dead soldiers, they found that they had been beheaded, said intelligence officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

The army retaliated Sunday with helicopter gunships that pounded suspected militant hideouts and also hit three houses and a mosque in the town, said intelligence officials. Three civilians were killed and 20 were wounded in the helicopter attacks, they said. It’s unclear how many militants were killed.

The military also raided a house in Miran Shah on Sunday night, killing a militant commander and several of his colleagues, said intelligence officials. But the remaining militants escaped with five soldiers captured during the raid.

They beheaded four of them and hung two of their heads from poles in Miran Shah on Monday. The bodies of the others were dumped in Miran Shah bazaar, the officials said.

“This will not shy us off establishing the writ of the government in all the areas, including North Waziristan,” said Rabbani, who commands 150,000 troops in the northwest along the Afghan border.

The army unleashed its helicopter gunships again Monday, attacking a weapons market in Miran Shah where the militants who attacked the security checkpoint were believed to be hiding, said intelligence officials. The attack killed some 30 militants and destroyed dozens of shops that sold assault rifles, ammunition and rocket propelled grenades, the officials said.

Since the fighting started Sunday, 20 Pakistani troops have been injured, said the officials.

The attack on the weapons market occurred after the army had declared a curfew, so there did not appear to be any civilian casualties within the bazaar, said Haji Zafran, one of the shop owners. But a dozen people were wounded when a mosque near the market was hit, he said.

The market burned for hours after the attack, and the area reverberated with loud bangs as the flames set off the ammunition and grenades in the shops, said Zafran.

The owner of the market, Haji Noor Deen, protested the army’s attack and claimed he and the other arms dealers suffered a loss of millions of dollars.

“Our place was targeted for no reason, as nobody fired a shot from there at the army,” said Deen. “The dealers just sell arms to tribesmen.”

The army lifted the curfew so that tribal elders and militants could hold a meeting to try to resolve the conflict, said intelligence officials. The jirga included members of the Haqqani network, an Afghan group, and also Hafiz Gul Bahadur, a powerful Pakistani militant commander believed to be close to Pakistan, they said.

 

PAF Forces NATO Cargo Plane To Land At Karachi Airport

Karachi: A Russian-made cargo plane carrying NATO supplies was force-landed in Karachi airport by the Pakistan Air Force planes on Wednesday.

According to sources, the Pakistan authorities forced the plane to land in Karachi after it entered Pakistani airspace.

The cargo plane took off from Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan and was supposed to fly to Al Maktoum International airport in UAE. The plane entered the Pakistani airspace without advance permission. The PAF aircraft came into action and the pilot was given two warnings which he ignored and was then forced to land at Karachi airport.

Civil Aviation Authority sources said the flight RTR  1012 entered Pakistani airspace without permission. Usually this kind of cargo planes are used to carry Nato supplies to Afghanistan, sources said.

US Troops Fire Into Pakistani Territory Four Times

US troops have fired into Pakistani territory at least four times in the last 10 months in cross-border skirmishes that they say are in response to shelling from inside Pakistan, CNN has learned.

The revelation is likely to stoke already tense relations between Pakistan and the United States, which hit a new low after a NATO airstrike last year killed 24 Pakistani soldiers along the volatile border.

While the Taliban and Haqqani network, an Afghan militant group operating from Pakistan’s Waziristan province, are generally believed responsible for cross-border attacks against troops, an Afghan army commander says Pakistani soldiers opened fire on him and his men as recently as April 14.

“When we went near the border, we were attacked with an anti-aircraft gun and mortars by the Pakistani army from their checkpoints. We are not only attacked from the Pakistani soil, but we are also attacked by the Pakistani army,” Masoud Karimi, an Afghan army commander, told CNN.

“We just saw them with our own eyes that the Pakistani soldiers were firing at us and on the same day we reported to the Americans. But the Americans told us that it was from the other side of the border and they didn’t have the permission to conduct operations … there,” he said.

Army Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings, a spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, confirmed Afghan soldiers were involved in a cross-border clash that day. He did not specify who opened fire upon the Afghans.

US troops do, however, sometimes fire back into Pakistan, as confirmed during a recent visit by CNN to Forward Operating Base Tillman in Afghanistan’s rugged Paktika province.

The commander at FOB Tillman, located just a few kilometers from the Pakistan border, said he has fired across the border in response to being shelled from inside Pakistan.

Army Capt. Charles Seitz said he did not know the exact number of times he returned fire.

But when pressed by CNN, and asked whether it was correct to say that he had fired into Pakistan more than five times, he responded: “That sounds accurate.”

The outpost is one of a handful along the Afghan-Pakistan border, and the captain’s admission may indicate more cross-border violence than previously publicized.

Cummings, the ISAF spokesman, said troops at Tillman have fired into Pakistan four times since June 2011.

Gen. Athar Abbas, a spokesman for the Pakistani military, said he did not know the exact number of times FOB Tillman fired into Pakistan, but that four sounded accurate.

A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said they try to liaise with Pakistani military forces first.

But that communication does not always happen, Abbas said.

He said that most of the time U.S. officials or NATO inform Pakistan before firing across the border, but sometimes they do not and Pakistani military checkpoints are hit. Abbas said he was unaware of the April 14 cross-border clash.

FOB Tillman is named for fallen Army Spec. Pat Tillman — the Arizona Cardinals linebacker turned soldier who was killed in a friendly fire incident in 2004 in Afghanistan, near the border.

Relations between the United States and Pakistan — complicated at the best of times — have become especially tense in the past year.

The deaths of 24 Pakistani soldiers in November added to anger already felt by Pakistanis over the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden at a compound in Pakistan in May, and continued American drone strikes on targets in the nation.