BBC : Fatal attack on Pakistan troops

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Fatal attack on Pakistan troops

October 25, 2007

At least 18 Pakistani soldiers have been killed in an attack on an army vehicle in the northern region of Swat.

The attack comes one day after the army deployed 2,500 more troops in the area to combat rising militancy.

Some civilians are reported to be among the dead. More than 35 people were taken to hospital for treatment.

The Swat valley in North West Frontier Province has become a stronghold of an anti-government militant leader, Maulana Fazlullah.

He has reportedly used radio broadcasts to call for jihad, or holy war, against the Pakistani authorities.

'Huge explosion'

The army vehicle, carrying munitions, exploded in the attack in Mingora, the main town in the district of Swat.

Most reports indicate that the blast was caused by a roadside bomb.

"It was a huge explosion. Then the truck was on fire," student Taj Mohammed Khan said, the Associated Press news agency reports.

"There were flames, smoke and people crying. People were scared to go near because bullets were going off."

Police say that civilian bystanders were killed or injured.

Dr Asadullah of the Saidu Sharif hospital in Mingora said 18 bodies had been brought in, many of them charred by the blast and fire that erupted afterwards.

At least 35 injured people were being treated by hospital staff, he said.

A local journalist at the scene told the BBC the death toll could be higher because many dead bodies of civilians were not taken to the hospital.

He said about 45 paramilitary troops were sitting in the truck when it was hit by an improvised explosive device planted on the road side.

'Restoring order'

The main military spokesman, Maj Gen Waheed Arshad told the BBC that the dead troops were all paramilitary soldiers.

The army said on Tuesday that the 2,500 soldiers deployed there as reinforcements were setting up checkpoints across Swat, a valley popular with tourists until an upsurge of violence earlier this year.

"The deployment may cause inconvenience to local population, but it is necessary to restore law and order in Swat," the caretaker Chief Minister of North West Frontier Province (NWFP), Shamsul Mulk, told the BBC.

In July at least 10 Pakistani soldiers were killed in a militant attack in Swat.

It was part of a wave of attacks on the army in response to the security forces' storming of the radical Red Mosque in the capital, Islamabad that left more than 100 people dead.