At least seven troops of the international coalition against terrorism and their four Afghan supporters were killed in a remote tribal territory of the NWFP close to the border with Afghanistan, knowledgeable sources said Monday.
The killings came barely 12 days after the US-led coalition troops - currently operating along with Pakistani forces against al-Qaeda and Taliban fugitives in Pakistan's semi-autonomous areas - shot dead a religious seminary's controller in the Birmal-Lara area South Waziristan. Fayyazul Uloom controller Maulana Darya Khan, it will be instructive to recall, had been slain on May 7 by the coalition forces.
"Late Sunday night a close relative of Maulana Darya Khan, hailing from the Malakshai tribe, killed 11 people of the coalition - including four men of the Afghan Kharoti tribe - in retaliation for the slaying of the religious scholar in the same area," the sources revealed.
They disclosed Rehmatullah, cousin of the controller, ambushed the coalition troops, who were on their way back to the Machadad Fort from the Birmal-Lara town after conducting a hunt for the Afghan escapees believed to be hiding in the South Waziristan sub-tehsil.
The ambush that lasted two hours, from 9 to 11pm (local time), left dead seven coalition troops and four members of the Kharoti tribe guiding them, one authoritative account said. Rehmatullah was also killed by in the cross-fire and his body was taken into custody by the troops, who later invited the Malakshai tribesmen to talks.
The tribe, however, declined the offer for talks, "which apparently seek cast-iron guarantees of cooperation from the locals". Following the outright rejection of the negotiation offer, the coalition has sent a loud and clear message of punishing the defiant tribesmen. To make good on the threat, US copters and jets severely strafed the area overnight.
"Travelling in a convoy of six vehicles and several motorbikes, the troops managed to take their colleagues' corpses to the Machsadad Khan Kharotai Fort, which is placed cheek by jowl with the porous frontier," a tribal chieftain said.
He asserted that minutes after the incident, US aircraft flew to the site, on the Pakistani side of the border, to bomb out the vehicles left behind. The bombing, he guessed, was aimed at erasing any proof of the coalition getting into Pakistani territory.
As the news broke, a wave of protest swept the tribal area, with the Malakshai tribesmen taking positions on nearby hilltops "to be able to act in the same way if further action is taken against their kin," he said, adding that US planes and helicopters kept pounding the area all though the night.
Meanwhile, Pakistan Army and paramilitary personnel have also been moved to the spot to control the fluid situation, but the Malakshai tribe has reportedly kept them at arms distance. In the wake of the incident, tension has gripped the entire region amid strongly-worded warnings from residents to "jealously guard their autonomy".
Reports from South Waziristan Agency said people celebrated the killings, touting the proverbial tribal spirit of seeking revenge on the enemy. In Wana, agency headquarters, a march was held and various leaders addressed it. Baa Khan, a tribal chieftain of Ahmedzai Wazir, who was tried to be arrested by the political administration on May 14, 2002 and whose nephew Ismail was injured in the attempt, addressing the rally said that he would extend all out support in any form to the tribal people who would wage war against the foreign troops in Pakistan. The political administration was not available for comments as all the phone lines were kept engaged.
The news spread like a jungle fire around the South Waziristan Agency and Mahsud, Wazir and Malakshai tribes have vowed to resist any reprisal.
Strong feeling had remained high in the area since the US commandoes were seen in the tribal belt and ultimately the tribes only allowed the aged persons of Pakistan army, local police (khaisadars) and maliks (tribal elders) to search their houses if there were news about any al-Qaeda troops or Taliban in the area.
Now the people were also waiting for a retaliatory action from the US-led Coalition troops but have asked the Pakistan government to take appropriate steps as the foreign troops entered the area without any permission.
It would not be irrelevant to mention here that even on May 13, 2002 a bridge was also blown up in the Kanikuram area, which is believed was an act to register resentment against the presence of foreign troops in the area.
On May 14, 2002 five people were also arrested in the Azam Warsak area when law enforcement agencies raided a religious seminary Madrassah on the second day of the search operation launched against Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters, believed to be hiding in the tribal agency.
Safiullah Gul PRAVDA.Ru
The choice of the city of Helsinki is not incidental as the capital of Finland had hosted US-Soviet negotiations on the limitation of nuclear stockpiles in 1969