Fierce clashes over control of Sandapal hilltop
LANDI KOTAL: Three more persons were killed as fierce clashes between banned militant organisation Lashkar-i-Islam and its rival Ansaarul Islam continued to take control of strategically important Sandapal hilltop in Khyber Agency on Thursday, sources said.
They said that activists of Ansaarul Islam had occupied the hilltop two days ago but they were pushed back after a severe gun-battle on Wednesday night, which left seven persons dead.
Both the organisations were attacking each other with heavy weapons to take control of Sandapal and Skarwata hilltops, overlooking most of the Sipah area, which was still under the control of Lashkar-i-Islam (LI). Sources said that the killed activists belonged to Ansaarul Islam.
On the Zakhakhel front in Landi Kotal tehsil, LI recaptured one of its important bases in Sapaara that was taken over by the Zakhakhel lashkar some three days ago. It was learnt that Zakhakhel lashkar also lost two of its volunteers while three LI activists had also been killed.
The political administration has intensified its efforts to muster the support of Zakhakhel and Malikdin Khel tribal elders against LI. The Zakhakhel tribe has demanded reopening of Ziyarhai Pass, which was closed by security forces a year ago to check movement of suspected militants as it connects Landi Kotal with Karamna, Brag, Chora and Bazaar–Zakhakhel areas. The administration in return has demanded of Zakhakhel elders to ensure security of Ziyarhai and adjoining areas under the collective territorial responsibility clause of FCR.
The administration has also approached Malikdin Khel tribe in Bara to assist it in purging Chora area of militants. Officials believe that most of the attacks on containers and oil tankers carrying fuel and other supplies to Nato forces in Afghanistan are carried out from Chora area.
Gul Zaman, a commander of Taliban in Orakzai Agency, had tried few days ago to broker a ceasefire between LI and Zakhakhel lashkar. But his efforts bore no fruits as Ansaarul Islam offered help to tribal lashkar and convinced its leaders to continue fighting against LI.
The volunteers of tribal lashkar and Ansaarul Islam have sealed all exit and entry points of Sipah area and besieged LI. Sources said that fate of LI chief Mangal Bagh would be sealed if his opponents succeeded in capturing the Sandapal hilltop.
Meanwhile, 13 security personnel received injuries and two vehicles were destroyed when their convoys were targeted with roadside bombs.
Officials said that the first incident occurred in Spin Qabar area of Sipah when a time device planted at a roadside went off while a security convoy was on its routine patrolling of the area. Seven security personnel were injured and their vehicle was destroyed in the blast.
In the second incident, which took place in Shalobar area in similar fashion, six personnel got injured and one of their vehicles was badly damaged. All the injured were taken to Combined Military Hospital in Peshawar. Security forces later conducted a search operation in both the localities and arrested a number of local residents.