MINGORA, Pakistan – Pakistani Taliban kidnapped 29 paramilitary soldiers and policemen Wednesday, police said, as the militants intensified their campaign against government forces.
Security has deteriorated sharply in northwestern areas along the Afghan border as well as the Swat valley, where troops are struggling to stem spreading Taliban influence.
In the latest violence, militants attacked a police station in Shamzoi village in Swat and captured it after a siege of more than 24 hours, said senior police intelligence official Mohabat Khan.
“They apparently ran out of ammunition after a day-long siege,” Khan said of the paramilitary Frontier Corps (FC) soldiers and policemen defending the station.
“The militants have taken 29 people including 23 FC troops and six policemen,” he said, adding that the militants blew up the police station before they withdrew.
The Swat valley, only 130 km (80 miles) northwest of the capital, Islamabad, was for years a main tourist destination.
Militants infiltrated the valley from al Qaeda and Taliban strongholds on the Afghan border and began battling security forces in 2007 while trying to impose strict Islamist rule.
Residents say the militants have gained control of virtually the entire valley, making it a test of the government’s determination to tackle the spread of the Taliban.
Military officials said troops had been sent to Shamzoi on Tuesday to try and help those besieged at the police station, but the rescuers came under attack and four soldiers were killed.
A Pakistani Taliban spokesman, Muslim Khan, said his men had abducted 30 police and troops in the attack and Taliban leaders would decide their fate.
Fighting in the valley has intensified since army chief General Ashfaq Kayani visited last week, vowing to reimpose government control.
The military says dozens of militants have been killed in recent days and residents say about 40 civilians have also died, many in shelling and air attacks by government forces aimed at the militants.
Caught between the military and the Taliban, tens of thousands of residents have fled from the valley.
Elsewhere in the northwest, militants attacked a trucks beside the road from the northwestern city of Peshawar through the Khyber Pass to the Afghan border, burning eight transport containers, district government officials said.
The road is the main route for supplies bound for Western forces in land-locked Afghanistan, and all traffic along it was suspended Tuesday after militants blew up a bridge.
The containers destroyed near the town of Landi Kotal had been unloaded at the Afghan border and were empty, the officials said.
Paramilitary forces are working to restore traffic through the Kyber Pass by clearing a route across a dried-up river bed to bypass the destroyed bridge.