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Taliban attack kills 42 in Pakistan air base

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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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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)

Next Story

More than 1mn Afghan Children Deprive of Polio Vaccinations Because of Taliban and IS Militants

Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria are the only three countries in the world where polio is still not eliminated and continues to threaten the lives of millions of children

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polio vaccination, taliban, IS
FILE - A child receives polio vaccination drops during an anti-polio campaign in Kabul, Afghanistan. VOA

Some information in this report came from Reuters.

More than 1 million Afghan children, particularly in conflict-stricken regions of the country, were deprived of polio vaccinations in 2018 because of actions taken by Taliban and Islamic State militants, Afghanistan health officials tell VOA.

“Overall, 1.2 million children were deprived of vaccinations in the country,” Dr. Gula Khan Ayoubi, public affairs director of the mass immunization program at the Afghan Ministry of Public Health, told VOA. “And the hope this year is to bring down the number to about 200,000 children. The remaining 200,000 children are living in areas where the Islamic State terror group has a strong presence and does not allow any vaccinations.”

“To a large extent, the southern provinces of Zabul, Kandahar, Helmand, Uruzgan, and in the east, Kunar, have been affected the most due to the Taliban’s opposition,” Ayoubi added.

Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria are the only three countries in the world where polio is still not eliminated and continues to threaten the lives of millions of children. In 2018, Afghanistan had the most cases of polio among the three, with 21 cases reported across the country.

Afghan officials charge that contentious fighting, unrest, and the Taliban, IS and other armed groups are the main obstacles in the hard-to-reach areas in southern, southeastern and eastern Afghanistan.

polio vaccination, taliban, IS
FILE – An Afghan health worker administers the polio vaccine to a child during a vaccination campaign on the outskirts of Jalalabad on March 12, 2018. VOA

Immunization ban

The Afghan Taliban last week told Reuters the group had banned the activities of World Health Organization and the International Committee of the Red Cross in areas under their influence until further notice.

“They [vaccinators] have not stuck to the commitments they had with Islamic emirates, and they are acting suspiciously during vaccination campaigns,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said.

Polio vaccinators often go house to house to vaccinate children, and they mark the doors of houses where members are not present at the time to ensure the residents are vaccinated at a later date.

The Taliban consider these vaccinators spies for the government and foreign forces, and are sensitive to their presence in areas under their influence.

Conditional agreement

Afghan health officials told VOA this month that they had reached a conditional agreement with the Taliban to continue their vaccination campaign in Taliban-controlled areas.

“With the help of religious leaders and local influential elders, local Taliban commanders have agreed to allow the children under their controlled areas to be vaccinated,” Ayoubi said at the time. “Their condition, however, is that the mass vaccinations take place at a mosque or a similar place. Our vaccinators would not be allowed to go house by house and mark the doors.”

WHO reaction

In a statement issued last week, WHO said the Taliban’s ban would negatively affect its operations across the war-torn country.

“We are deeply concerned that the temporary ban will negatively impact delivery of health services to affected populations,” the organization said. “WHO has been supporting health activities in all parts of Afghanistan, including primary health care, response to health emergencies, vaccination and polio eradication.”

polio vaccination, IS, taliban
FILE – An Afghan health worker vaccinates a child as part of a campaign to eliminate polio, on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan, April 18, 2017. VOA

Sanela Bajrambasic, spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva, also said her organization was seeking clarification from the Taliban and that it would work with the group to find a solution to the issue.

“What we can say at this point is that we have seen the same statement on their website, and we will be seeking to engage bilaterally with the Taliban on it,” she told Reuters.

Negative campaign

Some experts charge that in addition to militant groups, negative campaigns and rumors that swine are used to prepare the polio vaccine or that it has dangerous side effects have also made it difficult for vaccination campaigns to succeed in rural areas, which contribute to the spread of polio.

“The groups that spread these rumors are those opposing the mass immunization programs,” said Dr. Najib Safi, WHO program manager of health system development. “These groups have always been trying to confuse people. In 2016, Afghan religious scholars decreed that it is permissible to use the polio vaccine. In addition to that, there are Islamic decrees from Egypt’s al-Azhar University, [Saudi Arabia’s] Jeddah and India’s Deobandi Islamic school that the polio vaccine is permissible to administer.”

“Polio, and all other immunizing vaccines that are being administered to children, have no side effects. There are no links between the polio vaccine and impotency,” Safi added.

Dr. Alam Shinwari, a medical expert who follows health-related developments, including polio in Afghanistan, charges that public awareness is the key to overcoming this issue.

ALSO READ: India’s Success in Polio-Free World, the Most Significant Achievements in Public Health

“Polio is mainly endemic in areas around the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, where traditional conservative religious tribes are residing, who have been influenced by their local religious scholars and local traditions beliefs that have negatively impacted their perceptions toward polio vaccination,” Shinwari said.

“To overcome such barriers, we need to increase the level of public awareness by involving local religious scholars and imams, local educational experts, and finally, local leaders and elders. They have significant influence among people in tribal areas between Afghanistan and Pakistan and can help overcome this problem,” he said. (VOA)