By Ayaz Gul
Pakistan said Thursday that heavily armed militants ambushed a convoy of vehicles in its southwestern Baluchistan province and killed at least 14 security personnel.
A military statement said the convoy was carrying the oil and gas department staff from Gwadar to Karachi when it came under attack from a large group of gunmen on the main coastal highway linking the two cities.
The statement added that paramilitary forces escorting the civilian vehicles engaged the assailants in an intense firefight. The statement noted that “substantial losses were also incurred” by the terrorists,” and the “effective” security response ensured the “safe exit from the area” of all civilians in the convoy.
“Such cowardly acts by inimical elements to sabotage peace (sic), stability and economic development in Baluchistan shall never be allowed to succeed,” the statement vowed.
Prime Minister Imran Khan denounced the deadly assault and ordered an urgent investigation.
Ethnic Baluch separatists claimed credit for plotting the violence. The separatist insurgency has for years simmered in sparsely populated Baluchistan, though military officials say sustained crackdowns in recent years have degraded it.
Intermittent attacks on security forces persist. At times, Chinese workers associated with massive China-funded infrastructure development projects in the Pakistani province have been targeted.
Militants linked to the Pakistani Taliban and Islamic State also operate in Baluchistan, which is rich in mineral resources and natural gas deposits.
Thursday’s ambush occurred in the same area where gunmen killed 15 commuter bus passengers, mostly members of the Pakistan navy and coast guard, early last year.
Pakistani officials allege rival India is funding the separatist insurgency. New Delhi denies these charges.
The Pakistani military also confirmed Thursday that a roadside bombing targeted a security convoy near the country’s northwestern border with Afghanistan, killing at least six troops, including an officer.
The outlawed Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), also known as the Pakistani Taliban, claimed it was behind the attack in North Waziristan district, a former militant sanctuary. In a statement, it gave a much higher death toll for the security forces, though TTP claims often are inflated.
The Waziristan border region has been the scene of major military operations in recent years that Pakistani officials say have cleared the rugged mountainous district of militant groups, barring a few isolated pockets.