Pakistani security forces on Thursday raided a private hospital in the tribal region of South Waziristan, a Taliban stronghold, killing four foreign militants and a woman in a gunfight that lasted more than four hours. The Army’s action comes a day after the Taliban claimed responsibility for an attack in the southern port city of Karachi on Dec. 28, which claimed 44 lives. Pakistan’s security forces and intelligence agencies have long claimed that foreign fighters form the backbone of the insurgency in the country.
According to the Pakistani daily Dawn, the slain foreign militants are of Arab and Sudanese origin.
Troops laid siege to the Hafiz Hospital in Wana, which belonged to a former MNA [Member of the National Assembly]...
A security official said the raid followed a tip off that wounded militants were brought to the hospital from Sherwangi, a Taliban-dominated area where Pakistan has been pressing a major offensive.
“Commandos and security forces raided the hospital. Militants fired on the troops and in the gunfight, which lasted more than four hours, four militants and a woman were killed, while 27 others were arrested,” said the official.
Although Pakistani security officials claims that the 27 people arrested are suspected militants, the BBC reports that eyewitnesses say “those arrested included hospital staff and patients with no apparent links to the Taliban.”
The Pakistani authorities have long claimed that foreign fighters are central players in the Taliban insurgency in the country’s tribal region. Earlier this year, the Pakistani daily, The News, said there were 8,000 foreign fighters in the tribal belt.
Although officially the government of Pakistan accepts that foreign fighters are present, their unusually large number has set alarm bells ringing in Islamabad and possibly in other capitals as well….
According to the report presented to the [Pakistani prime minister], a majority of these foreign fighters are living in North and South Waziristan and Bajaur. Prime Minister Gilani has also been informed that some foreign intelligence agencies are pushing their agents into the Pakistani tribal areas from Afghanistan under the cover of Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters. These under-cover agents are trying to instigate the local population to fight against Pakistani forces as part of a “great game” in the region.
The exact number of foreign militants in Pakistan, however, is unclear. Earlier this month, an official of Pakistan's intelligence agency claimed that there were 1,000 foreigners in the tribal belt, primarily Uzbeks, reports Central Asia Online.
According to [Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, director of Inter-Service Public Relations], Central Asians comprise the largest contingent of foreign militants backing Taliban fighters in the region, and “In late 2001, the IMU and the Uzbeks won the support of some Pakistani tribesmen, but that support waned after the Uzbeks killed several local people and got involved in kidnapping and other crimes.”
An analysis in Yale Global Online explains that foreign fighters entered Pakistan's tribal belt to escape the US invasion of Afghanistan in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
For a generation raised on legends of the Afghan resistance against the Soviets and the mythologized Afghan-Arab Mujahadin, many in the [tribal belt] saw the foreign fighters as noble, and their struggle resonating with the stories of their upbringing. When combined with the hospitality prescribed by pashtunwali, the traditional code of conduct, this proved impetus enough to take the foreign fighters in, and in some cases, join them.
The Army’s action in South Waziristan comes a day after the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the Pakistan wing of the Taliban, claimed responsibility for an attack on a religious procession in Karachi on Dec. 28, which left 44 people dead, reports The News.
[Taliban commander Asmatullah Shaheen] claimed the suicide bomber, Hasnain Muawia, reached Karachi a day before the suicide attack and was especially trained to target the Ashura procession….
The Taliban commander threatened that a new wave of suicide bombings would be unleashed across the country in the next week. He said the government installations and security forces would be specifically targeted.
Security forces also announced on Thursday the capture of Khalilullah, the chief of the TTP in the Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province, reports Dawn. Khalilullah claims to have a team of 600 suicide bombers in the province.
Meanwhile, the United Nations announced Thursday that it will move 20 percent of its foreign staffers in Pakistan for security reasons. The Associated Press reports that the UN says it will either temporarily move its expatriate workers out of the country or to safer areas within Pakistan.
At least 11 UN staffers in Pakistan have been killed in attacks this year, the AP adds.
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