REPORTING FROM ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN -- Militants on Thursday claimed responsibility for killing 15 Pakistani paramilitary troops this week. The troops were kidnapped from a checkpoint near the Afghan border in December, dealing a serious setback to potential peace talks between Islamabad and the country's homegrown insurgency.
The bodies of the men were found in the village of Shewa in North Waziristan, a tribal region that serves as a stronghold for several Pakistani and Afghan insurgent groups, local officials said. They were members of the Frontier Constabulary, a paramilitary force that patrols Pakistan's volatile tribal districts along the border with Afghanistan.
They had been abducted by gunmen Dec. 22. One soldier was killed at the time, but seven escaped. The Pakistani Taliban said the executions were in retaliation for a Pakistani military operation in the Khyber tribal region Jan. 1 that killed 12 Taliban militants. Among them was Qari Kamran, a Taliban commander who headed up the insurgent group's operations in the northwest city of Nowshera.
The Taliban also claimed Pakistani soldiers detained women and children belonging to militants' families during the Khyber operation. "Both Sharia law and local traditions do not permit the killing of mujahedin fighters and the arrests of women and children," the Taliban said in a statement released in North Waziristan.
The deaths of the paramilitary soldiers likely will complicate the Pakistani government’s efforts to reach a negotiated solution to years of armed conflict with the Pakistani Taliban, which opposes Islamabad's alliance with the U.S. and has been responsible for the deaths of more than 4,000 people in suicide bombings and other acts of terrorism.
Though there is no confirmation that talks between the government and Pakistani Taliban militants have begun, Pakistani leaders have expressed a strong interest in tackling the problem of militancy through peace talks rather than military confrontation.
-- Alex Rodriguez and Zulfiqar Ali
Rodriguez reported from Islamabad, and special correspondent Zulfiqar Ali reported from Peshawar, Pakistan.