Insurgents execute 15 kidnapped Pakistani soldiers

Islamabad:  Taliban insurgents executed 15 kidnapped security troops and dumped their bodies on a hilltop in northwestern Pakistan on Thursday, government and military officials said, in retaliation for the killing of a militant commander by government forces.

The troops were kidnapped on Dec. 23 after dozens of Taliban insurgents overran a fort in the Mullazai area in the Tank district of South Waziristan, one of the restive tribal regions straddling the border with Afghanistan. Officials said efforts had been made to secure their release.

The executions followed the death of a high-ranking Taliban commander on Sunday and came just days after local media reported that several factions of the Taliban had formed a united front and had vowed not to attack the Pakistani military.

The bullet-ridden bodies of the troops, belonging to the Frontier Constabulary, were spotted by local tribesmen Thursday morning after they were dumped in Mirali, a sub-district in the North Waziristan tribal region. The Frontier Constabulary is run by the Pakistani police authorities. It has about 70,000 paramilitary soldiers who man checkpoints in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province and provide security at foreign embassies and consulates in major cities across Pakistan.

"From the look of it, it seems they had been shot dead early Thursday morning," a senior security official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said of the troops. "We have been trying to get them freed," the official said. "And we have had contact with their captors and until last night the indications that we had were very, very positive. God knows what happened afterwards."

Further south, armed men in the city of Quetta kidnapped a British employee of the International Committee of the Red Cross on Thursday, news agencies reported. The affiliation of the men was not clear and there was no immediate claim of responsibility.

The executions in northwestern Pakistan were claimed by a Taliban spokesman, Ihsanullah Ihsan, who described them as an "act of revenge" for the killing of militants in the Khyber tribal region on Sunday. He said the group would release a video of the killings "soon" and threatened more attacks.

A local Taliban commander, Qari Kamran, and 11 militants were killed in the Khyber tribal region on Sunday after security forces attacked a militant hideout. Mr. Kamran was considered a high-ranking Taliban commander who oversaw terrorist attacks and activities in Khyber and his native Nowshera district in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

Security officials said they had expected retaliatory attacks since Mr. Kamran's killing was considered a major success.

Last week, reports emerged that Afghan Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders had urged Pakistani Taliban militants to put aside their internal differences and focus on attacks against the American-led forces inside Afghanistan.

There have also been reports of ongoing peace talks between Pakistan's government here and some Taliban factions, although military officials deny existence of such talks.

The executions show that, despite a recent decrease in militant-related violence and suicide attacks, some Taliban militants are unwilling to end their attacks, analysts here said. A report released recently by an Islamabad-based research organization, Pak Institute for Peace Studies, stated that militant-related violence has decreased by 24 percent in the last two years.

"The Taliban are not to be believed because past deals have shown that they end up violating their own peace deals with the government and use them to regroup and regain strength," said Omar R. Quraishi, an editor of The Express Tribune, a Karachi-based English-language daily.

Mr. Quraishi said the executions also highlighted differences between Taliban factions, since some groups seemed to support ending the fighting against Pakistani security forces, while others continued attacks. "In either case, now the government would be hard pressed to talk at all to any faction of the Taliban," Mr. Quraishi said

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