Emboldened Pakistani militants seize, then abandon, fort on bordernear Afghanistan
The attack is a setback for the Army and is raising concerns ahead of next month's elections.
Hundreds of armed militants stormed a border fort overnight Wednesday in Pakistan's tribal belt, killing at least seven border guards. The militants then abandoned the colonial-era fort on the border in South Waziristan, a lawless zone that US officials say is a launching pad for Taliban and Al Qaeda attacks on Western troops in neighboring Afghanistan.Skip to next paragraph
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Islamic militants used explosives to breach the fort where about 40 guards were stationed, according to the Pakistan Army. Most of the guards fled, and others were reported missing after the firefight. The militants left the fort later the same day, melting back into the rugged mountains of northwest Pakistan.
The attack is a setback for Pakistan's Army the Associated Press reports. Fifteen guards fled to safety at another Army base. Another 20 were listed as missing, but five were later found. The military claimed that 50 militants died in the firefight, a claim denied by a militant spokesman who said two had died in the assault.
The insurgents who seized the Sararogha Fort were said to be followers of Baitullah Mehsud, an Islamic hard-liner. Since December, Mr. Mehsud has been the sole leader of an umbrella group of Taliban sympathizers and is also thought to have links to Al Qaeda.
Musharraf has blamed Mehsud's movement, Tehrik-e-Taliban, for 19 suicide attacks that killed more than 450 people over the last three months. Mehsud, labeled enemy No. 1 by the government, also masterminded the brazen capture of 213 Pakistani soldiers last August.
The Washington Post said Pakistani authorities have also linked Mehsud to the Dec. 27 assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Mehsud's fighters have targeted Pakistani troops in South Waziristan with hit-and-run attacks and suicide bombings as the battle for territory intensifies.
While an Army spokesman said the number of militants was around 200, the BBC said that local officials and other reports indicate an attack force closer to 1,000. This is the first time that militants have captured a fort in Pakistan and that is unsettling for authorities as they prepare to hold parliamentary elections next month, the BBC said.