Officials Say Pakistan Raid Kills All Taliban Hostage-Takers

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) -- Pakistan's special forces raided a police center in a remote northwestern district on Tuesday, killing all Pakistani Taliban militants who had earlier this week overpowered guards at the facility, seized arms and taken hostages, officials said.

The swift operation was successful, according to security and intelligence officials, but it was not immediately clear how many Taliban were killed -- or how many officers had been held by the hostage-takers at the center in Bannu, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, since the brazen takeover on Sunday.

The officials declined to elaborate or provide details on the operation, which was launched after more than 40 hours of negotiations with the Pakistani Taliban failed. On Monday, officials had said that one officer was killed when the Taliban detainees, held for years at the Bannu counter-terrorism center, seized the facility.

Defense Minister Khawaja Mohammad Asif told reporters that the operation was successful but also declined to elaborate, saying a government statement would be coming later Tuesday.

The Taliban had claimed they were holding at least eight security personnel. Earlier, officials said there were about 30 Taliban fighters involved and that they had demanded a safe passage to former strongholds of the militant group.

Three military and police officials said seven members of the special forces who took part in the operation were wounded. Mohammad Ali Saif, a government spokesman in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, said the Taliban hostage-takers were given a chance to surrender before the raid but refused.

Thick black smoke billowed into the sky from inside the compound after two explosions were heard as the raid got underway Tuesday. Intermittent gunshots continued reverberating across the area for two hours, officials said.

All the officials spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing situation. No military or government spokesmen were immediately available for comment.

Sunday's brazen takeover of the police center reflected the Pakistani government's lingering inability to exercise control over the remote region along the border with Afghanistan.

The Pakistani Taliban, also known as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP, are separate but allied with the Afghan Taliban, who seized power in neighboring Afghanistan last year as U.S. and NATO troops were in the final weeks of their pullout from the country after 20 years of war.

On Monday, Mohammad Khurasani, a TTP spokesman, had demanded safe passage for the hostage-takers to North or South Waziristan, areas that were a Taliban stronghold until a wave of military offensives over the past years drove out many of the insurgents.

Since then, top TTP leaders and fighters have been hiding in Afghanistan, though the militants still have relatively free reign in patches of the province.

Emboldened by their takeover of Afghanistan by their allies, the Afghan Taliban, the TTP fighters have stepped up attacks on Pakistani security forces and last month ended a monthslong cease-fire with the government. The violence has strained relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan's Taliban rulers, who had brokered the cease-fire in May.

The TTP has waged an insurgency in Pakistan over the past 15 years, fighting for stricter enforcement of Islamic laws in the country, the release of their members who are in government custody and a reduction of Pakistani military presence in the country's former tribal regions.