PESHAWAR: The bodies of 10 Pakistan Army soldiers killed during a clash with fighters of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in Orakzai Agency on December 21 were returned to the military authorities on Monday in exchange for 10 bodies of the militants.
Military sources said a group of TTP fighters had attacked a security checkpost, called “Maqsood Post”, near Daboori in Orakzai tribal region on December 21 and 10 soldiers had died fighting the militants who reportedly wanted to capture them alive. The security post was manned by the Pakistan Army soldiers.
Pleading anonymity, a senior military official said the troops fought till the last bullet and killed a number of militants. They said 10 soldiers died fighting and the militants took away their bodies and kept them in their hideouts in the mountains of Orakzai Agency. “The militants had killed our soldiers and taken away their bodies along with them. We had killed their people and taken possession of the bodies left behind by the TTP fighters. With the help of tribal elders, we managed to exchange the bodies,” the official said.
He said none among the slain security personnel was of officer rank. He added that the bodies had not been damaged as they were kept in Orakzai Agency where the temperature was quite cold these days.
TTP spokesman Ihsanullah Ihsan claimed responsibility for killing the soldiers and said their fighters had taken away these bodies. “We had left behind five bodies of our slain fighters while taking away the 10 bodies of slain soldiers. After a series of talks, we exchanged the bodies on Monday. We gave them bodies of their soldiers and they returned the bodies of our fighters,” the TTP spokesman said.
The bodies of another five militants killed during a raid by the paramilitary Frontier Corps (FC) in Karamna area of Landikotal Tehsil of Khyber Agency were also returned to the TTP in exchange for bodies of the slain soldiers.
The militants said senior militant commander Qari Kamran, who was affiliated with commander Tariq Afridi, the TTP leader for Darra Adamkhel and Khyber Agency, had also been killed along with other militants. The militants on January 5 killed 15 Frontier Constabulary personnel and called it a revenge for the killing of Qari Kamran. The FC men were kidnapped by the militants during an attack on their fort in the Mullazai area of the Frontier Region Tank on December 23.
Pakistani security officials said Orakzai Agency was the most favoured place for the militants.
They believe that from the Orakzai Agency, the militants used to plan attacks on Pakistani forces and government installations in other tribal regions and also move freely into Peshawar and other major cities to carry out sabotage acts.
Surrounded by mountains, Orakzai is the only one among the seven tribal agencies that does not border Afghanistan. The Taliban often bragged that Orakzai was far away from the Nato forces across the border and from the US drones. It was relatively easy for the militants to move northwest into the Khyber and Kurram agencies and use Bilandkhel, a small village which links Orakzai with North Waziristan tribal region, to the south to sneak into the Afghan border to fight the foreign forces.
In November 2010, the army sealed off these routes to try and prevent the militants escaping the military offensive in South Waziristan from seeking safe havens in Orakzai. Pakistani officials believed that Hakimullah Mahsud was operating in Orakzai before shifting to South Waziristan after becoming the TTP chief following the death of Baitullah Mahsud in a drone attack in Zangara village, South Waziristan.
Security forces launched a fresh military operation in Orakzai when Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor Barrister Masood Kausar went there and came under attack. The troops have cleared some of the areas in Orakzai but are still facing tough resistance from the militants in upper parts of the troubled tribal region where the militants have established their sanctuaries.