Published March 17, 2004
WANA, Pakistan – Attackers set military vehicles ablaze and terrified townspeople streamed out of a remote tribal village Wednesday, a day after one of the bloodiest clashes in Pakistan's fierce crackdown on Al Qaeda (search) and Taliban (search) fugitives.
Mosque loudspeakers blared a warning from authorities that residents must leave the besieged village of Kaloosha by 3 p.m. because of the continuing violence. Many appeared to be heeding the call.
One villager who fled Kaloosha (search) early Wednesday said hundreds of people from about 60 families had left the village of 6,000 people in an exodus that began late Tuesday.
"People are scared. People are worried," Eid Gul said after arriving in Wana, the main town in the tribal South Waziristan (search) region, six miles east of Kaloosha.
The death toll from Tuesday's raid on a mud-brick compound in Kaloosha rose to 39 as some troops involved in the operation died of their injuries, a military spokesman said. Suspected terrorists and the tribesmen accused of harboring them fired on troops from the compound and from nearby hills.
Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan said that 15 paramilitary soldiers had died in the operation in South Waziristan — up from the nine reported earlier. At least 24 suspects — including some foreigners presumed to be members of Al Qaeda — also were killed.
The raid began a day after Pakistan's President Gen. Pervez Musharraf (search) promised to rid the territory of foreign terrorists. It also coincided with a visit to the region by Secretary of State Colin Powell (search), who was visiting Afghanistan on Wednesday, then Pakistan — a key U.S. ally in its war on terrorism.
The suspects exchanged fire with the paramilitary troops from several directions, said Brig. Mahmood Shah, the security chief in the tribal regions.
It was unclear who was inside the compound, but it was thought to belong to one of seven tribesmen from the Yargul Khel clan accused of harboring Al Qaeda and Taliban suspects. The seven have refused to surrender to authorities.
"They were in groups. They were all around. They fired from the mountains and from houses," Shah told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Several anti-terror operations have been staged in the semiautonomous tribal belt in recent months, but none so bloody. The crackdown stirred anger in the tribal belt, which has resisted outside intervention for centuries.
Attackers set fire late Tuesday and early Wednesday to eight army trucks — some loaded with ammunition — three pickup trucks, two armored personnel carriers and two artillery guns, an intelligence official said on condition of anonymity.
Kaloosha resident, Fazal Karam, said the body of a paramilitary soldier was found inside one smoldering truck, although officials would not confirm the fatality.
The intelligence official said one paramilitary soldier was found Wednesday shot to death near Zalai, about 10 miles southwest of Wana. It was the military's ninth confirmed fatality.
Shah said Tuesday that the raid was "the most deadly" in memory in the area.
"There will be more such operations," he said. "We will continue these operations until it is assured that our tribal areas have been purged of foreign terrorists."
Army spokesman Gen. Shaukat Sultan said 24 suspects were killed in Tuesday's raid, just a few miles from the Afghan border. The majority appeared to be tribesmen suspected of sheltering terrorists, but Sultan said the dead included several foreigners presumed to be members of Al Qaeda.
There was no indication that any senior Al Qaeda or Taliban leaders were killed, but the bodies had not yet been identified.
The Pakistani military has conducted a series of sweeps in the tribal regions, where it has deployed some 70,000 forces. Musharraf vowed on Monday to rid the areas of suspected terrorists, and acknowledged for the first time that 500-600 foreigners were sheltering in the region.
The operation followed an announcement over the weekend that American forces had launched another operation on the Afghan side of the border to capture fugitives, including Al Qaeda chief Usama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar.