Twin attacks in Pakistan kill 7 troops, 13 separatists

Twin attacks by separatists on Pakistani military posts in the volatile southwestern Baluchistan province triggered intense firefights that lasted hours and killed seven soldiers and 13 assailants, Pakistan’s interior minister and the military said Thursday.

A recently formed separatist group, the Baluchistan Nationalist Army, had claimed responsibility for the attacks late Wednesday in a post on Twitter.

In one of the attacks, four soldiers and nine militants were killed when the assailants raided a security camp in Baluchistan’s remote Naushki district on Wednesday evening. The other attack, on a security post in the province’s Panjgur area, killed three soldiers and four militants, according to a statement released by the military.

Pakistan’s Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said the attacks were successfully repulsed. The military said Thursday that a total of 13 assailants were killed, revising an earlier, higher figure.

A curfew was imposed in Panjgur on Thursday, after indications that some of the assailants had fled to a nearby bazar, according to Baluchistan’s Home Minister Ziaullah Langov. He spoke to reporters in Quetta, the Baluchistan provincial capital.

The military said that along with the seven “martyred soldiers,” four others were wounded. It also said a clearing-up operation was still underway in Panjgur and that intelligence indicated the attackers had aides in two neighboring countries, India and Afghanistan.

“As per an initial investigation, intelligence agencies have intercepted communications between the terrorists and their handlers in Afghanistan and India,” the statement said.

The military provided no evidence but Pakistan has long accused India of supporting Baluch separatists. The two countries have a history of bitter relations and have fought two of their three wars over the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir since gaining independence from Britain in 1947.

Separatists and militants have regularly staged attacks in Baluchistan in recent years. Last week, militants killed 10 soldiers in an attack on a a security post there.

The separatists demand independence from the central government in Islamabad. Authorities say they have quelled the insurgency, but violence in Baluchistan has persisted.

The militant Pakistani Taliban group — Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP — also has a presence in Baluchistan. It is an umbrella group that is separate from the Afghan Taliban.

Last November, Pakistan reached a month-long cease-fire with the TTP, which has been behind numerous deadly attacks on security forces and civilians. The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in mid-August has emboldened the TTP, which has stepped up attacks in Pakistan, especially after the cease-fire expired.

Also Thursday, gunmen shot and killed two policemen and wounded another near a bazar in Nowshera, a town in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province bordering Afghanistan, according to local police official Umar Khan. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack in a posting on Twitter.