16 Pak soldiers killed in ‘mosque revenge’

July 19, 2007 - 0:0

MIRAN SHAH, Pakistan (The Times) - Sixteen Pakistani soldiers have been killed in an ambush in a tribal area as militants step up their revenge attacks on government forces following the siege of the Red Mosque.

Rebel fighters set off a remote-controlled roadside bomb as a military convoy moved towards Miran Shah, the capital of North Waziristan, Pakistan's most lawless region. The attackers then opened fire on the convoy, killing 16 soldiers and wounding a further 14. So far more than 130 people have died in a variety of revenge attacks orchestrated by Islamic militants since President Pervez Musharraf ordered troops to retake the Red Mosque in central Islamabad. Many of the students who died in the retaking of the Red Mosque and its religious school, where militants and radical clerics were holding out, were from the tribal areas of Waziristan, and their deaths have increased the appetite among villagers in tribal areas to attack the Government. Following the Red Mosque siege, militant leaders in North Waziristan last weekend scrapped the 10-month peace accord they had signed with the government and have since been launching a series of attacks. Twenty-four soldiers died at the weekend, and three soldiers died yesterday when a suicide bomber struck a security check post. Also yesterday, 16 civilians died in Islamabad when a suicide bomber on a motorbike rode into a crowd of demonstrators protesting about General Musharraf's sacking of Pakistan's chief justice in March. The collapse of General Musharraf's controversial ceasefire with the militants has added to the pressure on his embattled regime, already heavily criticized by moderates over the chief justice's removal. Until today he had spoken of trying to revive the ceasefire, but today it appeared that those hopes were dead. “We are in direct confrontation with extremist forces. It is moderates versus extremists,” General Musharraf was quoted as saying by a top government official who attended a meeting today between the president and local media. Zahid Hussain, Times correspondent in Islamabad, said that the Pakistan President had no choice but to take on the militants head-to-head. ""There is no going back for General Musharraf now,"" said Hussain. ""He is faced with this challenge and, particularly after the Red Mosque raid, he has no choice but to renew his fight against extremism. He has already moved forces to North West Frontier Province, and more troops have been sent in particular to Waziristan, which is the centre of tribal support for extremism."" The ceasefire's collapse has, however, come as a relief to Washington, where President Bush's counter-terrorism advisers condemned it in an intelligence report yesterday as a security disaster. The National Intelligence Estimate said that the ceasefire had failed in its intended aim of draining support in the tribal regions for Islamic extremism. ""It hasn't worked for Pakistan. It hasn't worked for the United States,"" commented Frances Fragos Townsend, the head of the White House's Homeland Security Council. The report concluded that the US was losing ground on a number of fronts in the fight against al-Qaeda, and said that the terror organization had strengthened significantly in the last two years. It cited General Musharraf's withdrawal from enforcing the law in tribal areas as the main reason why this had happened. Ms Townsend said that there was frustration that al-Qaeda had succeeded in rebuilding its infrastructure and its links to affiliates. The US military was focused in Iraq, she acknowledged, but the main threat of more terror attacks on the US emanated from the Pakistan tribal areas