16 Pakistani soldiers killed in Taliban ambush (Lead)

July 13th, 2008 - 1:30 am ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Taliban
Peshawar, July 12 (DPA) At least 16 Pakistani paramilitary soldiers and one militant was killed Saturday as pro-Taliban fighters ambushed a security convoy in Pakistan’s restive North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), officials said. From their positions in the mountains, dozens of insurgents opened fire with rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles on a convoy of Frontier Constabulary in Zargari area of Tal Tehsil of Hangu district.

A security official who spoke on condition of anonymity said at least 16 soldiers were killed and some two dozen were injured, while there were unconfirmed reports of four civilian deaths.

Hangu’s Deputy Superintendent of Police, Irshad Khan, confirmed the ambush but declined from giving information about the death toll.

Local Taliban extremists claimed responsibility for the action.

“One mujahid (holy warrior) died in the attack and six others were injured,” Shaheen, who identified himself as a spokesman of the Taliban in Hangu, told reporters by telephone from an undisclosed location.

Tensions rose high in the district Wednesday when the law enforcers arrested seven militants belonging to the group of Baitullah Mehsud, a top Taliban commander in South Waziristan.

Hours later, hundreds of heavily armed insurgents besieged a police station and abducted 27 security personnel as they retreated on the following day.

On Friday, a spokesman for the Taliban threatened that they would start executing the hostages if the government did not release their comrades and halted the ongoing operation in the area.

Following the ambush, the government forces targeted the militants’ hideout in the mountains in the Dori area of Hangu district with artillery fire, while helicopter gunships were also seen flying in the area.

Pakistan’s NWFP province and neighbouring tribal region that borders Afghanistan had seen a sharp decline in violence since the new government launched peace talks with the militants.

But the conflict seems escalating again as the government makes efforts to control Taliban from extending their influence to the major towns like Peshawar, NWFP’s capital.

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