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Taliban attack kills 42 in Pakistan air base

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www.telegraph.co.uk

By NewsGram Staff Writer

Peshawar: At least 42 people, among 13 terrorists, were killed on Friday when heavily armed Pakistani Taliban guerrillas stormed a mosque during morning prayers in an air base near Peshawar.

The audacious attack took place less than a year after over 150 people, mostly children, were killed in a terrorist attack at an army-run public school in the provincial capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

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www.pakistantoday.com.pk

Major General Asim Bajwa, the Inter-Services Public Relations director general, claimed the attack was planned and controlled from Afghanistan.

The terrorists, dressed in constabulary uniforms and wearing explosives-laden jackets and armed with hand-propelled grenades, mortars, and AK-47 rifles, entered the Badaber air base from two points and then quickly split into three groups, with two moving to a residential area.

The third group approached the mosque and sprayed worshippers with bullets during the morning ‘Fajar’ prayers, killing at least 16 people. However, it was not clear how many among the killed were civilians and how many were military personnel.

“The terrorists then split into two groups, with one group heading towards the administrative area of the base and the other group heading towards technical area,” Bajwa added.

“Captain Asfandyar embraced shahadat while fighting valiantly and leading his troops from the front,” Bajwa said.

The air base — which is essentially a residential complex rather than an operational one — is located on the southern-most tip of Peshawar’s administrative limits.

It is surrounded by tribal territory, which had been the hub of criminal and militant activity until recently.

The attack comes amid claims of success by the military in its 15-month operation in the tribal region, and might well be an attempt by militants to show they can still hit hard chosen targets.

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www.telegraph.co.uk

It also exposed holes in Pakistan’s pre-emptive intelligence gathering mechanisms, mainly due to lack of coordination and information sharing among various security agencies.

Gen. Bajwa said 16 people offering prayers at the air base mosque, 10 km south of Peshawar, were shot dead.

He tweeted that 13 terrorists were killed. The Pakistan army too suffered casualties.

The total number of gunmen involved was unclear, but Bajwa said the armed forces were hunting for the remaining attackers.

At least 25 people, including eight soldiers and two army officers, were injured as army commandos and personnel of the Pakistan Air Force and Quick Reaction Force carried out a counter-attack.

A posse of security personnel quickly reached the spot, triggering a heavy exchange of fire. Residents said they heard explosions and gunfire soon after the terror attack was mounted.

Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesperson Muhammad Khurasani in an e-mailed statement claimed responsibility and said a “suicidal unit” had carried out the attack.

“We sent 14 men to attack the base and eight of them entered the base from one side and six from the other side,” the spokesperson’s e-mail said.

On August 16, 2012, militants attacked the Minhas base of the Pakistan Air Force at Kamra. But lately there has been a lull in the violence. The last deadly attack in the city came in February when three Taliban militants stormed a Shia mosque, killing 21 people.

Following Friday’s attack, army chief General Raheel Sharif reached Peshawar. Air chief Sohail Aman also left for the city, a PAF spokesperson said.

“Army chief visited CMH, met injured army and PAF personnel,” Bajwa said, adding the chief of air staff accompanied him. “Injured in high morale and spirits,” he added.

Condemning the attack, President Mamnoon Hussain said the nation was committed to eliminate terrorism from the country.

“Terrorists cannot undermine our resolve by carrying out coward acts of terrorism,” the president said.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned the attack, saying: “Terrorists will be rooted out from the country.”

The premier said he was being updated on the ongoing operation against terrorists. He said the armed forces of the county have the full support of the entire nation.

Sharif also reached Peshawar and visited the wounded soldiers and civilians in hospital.

Corps commander Lt Gen. Hidayatur Rehman conducted aerial surveillance of the base from a helicopter.

(With inputs from IANS)

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Taliban Seeking Recognition of Qatar Office Ahead of Fresh Talks With US

No government envoys attended the Moscow meeting because the Taliban refuses to talk to Afghan officials.

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Taliban, Qatar
FILE - In this photo released by the Afghan Presidential Palace, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, center, speaks to U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, third left, at the presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, Jan. 28, 2019. VOA

The Taliban says it hopes ongoing negotiations with the United States would bring a long-demanded formal recognition for the insurgent group’s “political office” in Qatar, insisting it would help accelerate consultations over the endgame in the Afghan war.

The Taliban has been informally running the office in Doha, the Qatari capital, since 2013, but the host country has not allowed it to use the facility for any public dealings under objections from the Afghan government.

U.S. special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, and his team in recent months have held several meetings with Taliban envoys mostly in Doha. The two sides are set to meet there again on Feb. 25 to build on “significant progress” they made in six days of marathon talks in January.

Suhail Shaheen, the spokesman for the Taliban’s political office, in an interview told VOA that all their meetings with U.S. interlocutors and other foreign delegations take place in different hotels, making it difficult for his group to timely share details or progress with media.

Taliban, Qatar
FILE – Suhail Shaheen, then-deputy ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, gives an interview in Islamabad, Pakistan, Nov. 14, 2001. VOA

“We have raised this issue the U.S. delegation,” he said.

Shaheen noted that the Taliban last week held its first formal “intra-Afghan” dialogue in Moscow with a large group of prominent opposition leaders from Afghanistan, and a follow-up meeting of those consultations is scheduled for next month in Doha.

“The delegation from Afghanistan, of course, would come to the office (if it is recognized) and we will have a meeting with them and exchange views about the current peace process and how the Afghan issue can be resolved,” he observed.

No government envoys attended the Moscow meeting because the Taliban refuses to talk to Afghan officials, declaring the Kabul administration an illegal entity or American “puppets.” The rigid insurgent stance has also forced the U.S. to exclude President Ashraf Ghani from the dialogue process.

Ghani slammed the gathering in the Russian capital as an unauthorized dialogue and an attempt by his political opponents to gain power.

On Monday, Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, while addressing a weekly meeting of cabinet ministers, blamed “stubbornness of the Taliban” for being the main and only reason behind the war. He criticized the insurgent group for indulging in “propaganda” instead of joining “real talks” with the government. He did not elaborate.

Taliban, Qatar
FILE – Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah speaks during a press conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, Feb. 4, 2019. VOA

Abdullah’s remarks came a day after President Ghani made an offer to the Taliban to open an office in Afghanistan for conducting talks with his government.

Shaheen dismissed the offer and criticism as an attempt to “harm and derail” the current peace process. “Afghanistan is our own country and we don’t need permission from anyone to open an office there. By making such offers at this stage, they [Ghani government] are trying to harm the peace efforts,” Shaheen said.

The Taliban controls or influences nearly half of Afghanistan, but its leaders and fighters remain under attack from U.S.-backed Afghan ground and air forces. The insurgent group is opposed to ceasing its battlefield attacks until all foreign forces withdraw from the country.

Khalilzad, while delivering a public talk in Washington last week, said that after many conversations, the U.S. has reached “an agreement in principle” with the Taliban on a framework that would provide guarantees that no terrorist group or individuals would be able to use Afghan soil for attacks against the U.S. and its allies.

“Similarly, we have agreed in principle on a framework for possible U.S. [troop] withdrawal as part of a package deal,” he noted.

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Taliban spokesman Shaheen said that both sides also agreed to appoint two working groups to flesh out these undertakings and bring them to the table for the meeting scheduled for this month in Doha. He anticipated further progress in the upcoming round of talks and vowed to again raise with U.S. delegates the issue of granting formal recognition to the Taliban’s office, because his group is determined to carry forward Afghan peace talks in Doha.

There was no U.S. response available to the Taliban’s demand. (VOA)