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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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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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Pakistan Agrees To Cooperate With The U.S. To Achieve Peace in Afghanistan

Khan said Monday that Trump wants Pakistan to use its influence to nudge the Taliban to participate in Afghan peace talks.

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Imran Khan, Pakistan
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan speaks during a ceremony in Kartarpur, Pakistan. VOA

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan renewed Wednesday his resolve to cooperate with the United States to achieve a political settlement with the Taliban to end the war in Afghanistan, now in its 18th year.

Khan made the remarks during a meeting with the visiting U.S. special representative for Afghan peace and reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad.

“The prime minister reiterated Pakistan’s abiding interest in achieving peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan through political settlement,” Khan’s office said in a statement issued after the meeting.

Khalilzad arrived in Islamabad on Tuesday and held delegation level talks with senior foreign ministry officials before paying the courtesy call on Prime Minister Khan, officials said.

Imran Khan, Pakistan, Afghanistan,
Pakistan”s Prime Minister Imran Khan is seen during talks in Beijing, China, VOA

The U.S. envoy’s visit followed President Donald Trump’s formal request for Khan’s help in finding a political solution to the Afghan conflict.

“U.S. leadership looked forward to working with Pakistan in furthering the shared goal of peace through a political settlement in Afghanistan,” the Pakistani statement quoted Khalilzad as saying.

The Trump administration has tasked the Afghan-born former U.S. ambassador to Kabul to persuade the Taliban to join an Afghan peace process for ending the protracted war.

U.S. and Afghan officials have long accused Pakistan of sheltering Taliban leaders and allowing them to orchestrate attacks inside Afghanistan. Islamabad rejects the charges.

Afghanistan, USA, Pakistan
Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani, center right, and U.S. special envoy for peace in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad,center left, meet in Kabul. VOA

Khalilzad is on an 18-day trip to region, his third since taking office, and plans to visit Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Russia, UAE and Qatar, where the Taliban maintains its so-called political office.

During his previous two trips to the region, Khalilzad also traveled to Qatar and held marathon meetings with Taliban representatives there. He has held talks with Afghan politicians inside and outside of the government in Kabul.

Taliban officials insist that in talks with the U.S. they are seeking the withdrawal of all U.S. and NATO forces from the country before agreeing to join an intra-Afghan peace dialogue.

In a statement issued Tuesday, insurgent spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said they “will not tolerate foreign occupying and military presence under any circumstance.”

Mujahid also dismissed reports that Khalilzad is discussing with the Taliban possible future political dispensation in Kabul and other related issues.

 

Taliban, Afghanistan, Pakistan
Taliban fighters are seen gathered in Surkhroad district of Nangarhar province, east of Kabul, Afghanistan. VOA

 

“The formation of a government, establishing security and developing Afghanistan is a matter concerning the Afghans. No foreign occupying force has any legal right for determine the fate of Afghanistan, interfere in its matters or make comments as a proprietor,” said the Taliban spokesman.

Khalilzad has shared few details of his talks with the Taliban, though he said last month he was “cautiously optimistic” about achieving a peace deal.

Pakistan’s relations with the U.S. have dipped to historic lows in recent years over allegations of supporting the Taliban and other militants in the region. President Trump’s letter to Khan on Monday was a rare positive development in the fragile bilateral ties.

Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie, chosen to be the next commander of U.S. Central Command told Senators on Tuesday that Pakistan’s assistance is key to finding any solution in Afghanistan.

“It is in Pakistan’s long-term interest to have a government in Afghanistan that is stable that they can do business with. It will be hard to reach a settlement without some form of assistance from Pakistan,” McKenzie said during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

Donald Trump, democrats, government,, pakistan
U.S. President Donald Trump. VOA

Islamabad has long urged in talks with the U.S. that rival India’s growing influence in Afghanistan was a matter of concern for Pakistan. Pakistani security officials blame Indian intelligence operatives for supporting anti-state militants planning terrorist attacks in Pakistan from Afghan soil, charges both Kabul and New Delhi reject.

Also Read: U.S. President Donald Trump Seeks Pakistan’s Cooperation For Bringing Peace in Afghanistan

“I believe Pakistan knows very clearly that their assistance will be required to reach an end state in Afghanistan. I think the chance that we have is to make it attractive to them so that they see that it is in their best interest to do that,” noted the U.S. commander.

Khan said Monday that Trump wants Pakistan to use its influence to nudge the Taliban to participate in Afghan peace talks. (VOA)