Suicide bomber kills 11 soldiers in Pakistan, an ally recently dumped by Trump

Pakistani soldier takes position after an attack by Taliban militants in Peshawar

A suicide bomber killed at least 11 Pakistani soldiers and injured 13 at an army camp in northwestern Pakistan on Saturday, less than a month after the Trump administration said it was cutting aid to reimburse the country for counter-terrorism operations.

One officer was among those who died in the bombing, for which the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility in an email to journalists.

The attacker targeted an army unit’s sports area in the Kabal area of the Swat Valley, an administrative district near the Afghan-Pakistan border.

Swat was the first sizeable region outside Pakistan’s lawless tribal regions bordering Afghanistan to fall to the militants. More than 2,000 Taliban fighters have been driven out of the region, government officials say. The Pakistan Army’s public relations unit said that the “suicide attack” in the Swat Valley took place at the “army unit sports area”.

“The soldiers were playing volleyball in the evening outside the military base…when a suicide bomber managed to blow himself up,” said a security official who asked not to be identified.

The match was also being watched by civilians, and the casualty count could rise as a large number of people had gathered in the area, he said, adding that wounded were being shifted to a nearby military hospital.

Violence in Pakistan has declined in recent years following a series of military offensives along the northwestern border with Afghanistan, but militant groups are still able to carry out bloody attacks.

There have been a number of deadly assaults in recent months in the northwest as well as in the southwestern Balochistan province.

The Swat Valley was under the de facto control of the Pakistani Taliban in 2007-2009. They imposed their harsh brand of Islamic law, and carried out public floggings and executions until a military operation drove them out.

The area has seen sporadic militant attacks since, including assassinations of local leaders who cooperate with the government.

Pakistan, with a population of about 210 million, has the sixth-largest standing armed forces in the world and it has nuclear-weapons. An important US ally, Pakistan’s involvement in the war on terrorism has cost up to ~$118 billion, 60,000 casualties and almost two million displaced civilians.

Pakistan became a pivotal US ally in the battle against extremist terrorism after the Sept 11, 2001 attacks, which spurred the invasion of neighboring Afghanistan.

The State Bank of Pakis­tan reported that apart from causing immeasurable human suffering, including casualties and mass displacement, the ‘war on terror’ helped drive away foreign investment, stall domestic investment, freeze exports, and slow down trade.

The Trump administration said last month it was suspending at least $900 million in security assistance to Pakistan due to “immense frustration” with counter-terrorism operations against the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network militant groups.

Tense ties between the uneasy allies nosedived on Jan. 1 when U.S. President Donald Trump lashed out on Twitter against Islamabad’s “lies and deceit” despite $33 billion in aid and the White House warned of “specific actions” to pressure Pakistan.

Trump’s frustrations are shared by some U.S. lawmakers, who accused Pakistan of playing a double game by allowing militant groups sanctuary – which Islamabad denies – despite promising to crack down on them.

South Asia expert Christine Fair of Georgetown University voiced concern that Pakistan might retaliate for the suspension by closing the highways from the port city of Karachi on which equipment is trucked to land-locked Afghanistan and the airspace through which supplies are flown to U.S.-led international forces there.

“What is the plan if they close the GLOCs?” she asked, using the military acronym for Ground Lines of Communications.

“What if the Pakistanis shut down the ALOCs (Air Lines of Communications). How do you keep supplying the ANSF?” she asked, referring to the Afghan national security forces.

“Pakistan could be within their rights if they tell us you don’t have flyover rights anymore,” she said.

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