SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
off the Edge
The collapse of Pakistan’s five-month old coalition on August 25, 2008, a week after General (Retired) Pervez Musharraf resigned as the President, has not only enlarged the political vacuum in Islamabad but has also aggravated the multiple insurgencies across the length and breadth of the country. In the long run, the developments of the past weeks are bound to have immensely dangerous ramifications for the entire political and economic structure of Pakistan.
Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced, on August 25, that his party, the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N), had decided to quit the coalition due to differences with its coalition partner, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), on the issues of the reinstatement of deposed judges and the unilateral nomination of PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari as a presidential candidate. In a combative mode, Sharif told the media in capital Islamabad that the PPP had not honoured promises, in particular, on the issue of the judges. "When written documents are repeatedly flouted, trust cannot remain… We cannot find a ray of hope," he said, an indication that the pull-out could be irreversible.
The PPP leadership reportedly has fears that, if all the judges sacked by Musharraf in November 2007 are reinstated, some of them may invalidate an amnesty which led to the return of Zardari and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto to Pakistan in October 2007. Among others, the amnesty had absolved Zardari of multiple corruption charges. Any undoing of the amnesty agreement would now leave Zardari open to prosecution on these long-standing charges. The powerfully independent minded Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry was among approximately 60 Supreme Court and High Court judges suspended by Musharraf. Zardari has, unsurprisingly, indicated that he does not want Chaudhry back on the bench. On its part, the PML-N has said that Zardari, in failing to agree to Chaudhry’s reinstatement, has broken a written agreement made with Nawaz Sharif on August 7 to restore the judiciary to its pre-November 3 position.
The PPP has sufficient support in the National Assembly to maintain a simple majority, but with the PML-N now on the Opposition benches, the Government under Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani will incline to instability. The PML-N has nominated its own candidate, Saeed-uz-Zaman Siddiqui, a former Chief Justice, to challenge Zardari in the September 6 presidential election. Also in the fray is the Pakistan Muslim League – Quaid-e-Azam (PML-Q) candidate Mushahid Hussain Sayed. The Electoral College comprises members of the two Houses of Parliament – the National Assembly and Senate – and the four Provincial Assemblies. Hectic political activity is currently underway in Islamabad and elsewhere in the country in the run-up to the election. Immense acrimony has also now crept into the political discourse, a natural outcome of the fact that the PPP and PML-N, historical rivals, had just momentarily buried their differences. With the removal of their common opposition to Musharraf as the adhesive to their coalition of opportunity, both parties are back at their competitive best.
This bitter politicking pushes Pakistan into further turmoil and will only intensify the socio-political faultlines and exacerbate militancy. It will also deepen the ramifications of the current economic gloom, and bodes ill for the country’s future stability. An expanding vacuum will suit the already emboldened Taliban-al Qaeda combine, which has not only augmented its presence and activity in its existing strongholds, but is also gradually bringing the war to urban areas and hitherto stable parts of the country.
A survival-fixated Government led by Gilani has also come under immense and multiple pressures. Prominent among these is the enduring militancy across the country and the concomitant failure to stem the progression of entrenched forces of extremist Islam. In 2008, so far, it has been unambiguously demonstrated that the flag of extremist Islam continues to flail vigorously and violently across Pakistan, even as state agencies appear less in control, and more vulnerable. There have been some 3,220 militancy-related fatalities across Pakistan in 1,810 incidents in 2008 (data till August 31). This includes 1,118 civilians, 451 security force (SF) personnel and 1,651 militants. By comparison, the whole of 2007 witnessed approximately 3,599 killings, including 1,523 civilians, 597 SF personnel and 1,479 militants. In fact, August 2008 with 1,247 fatalities, including 339 civilians and 784 militants, has been the most violent month on record (according to the ICM database). [It is useful to reiterate that, given Islamabad's understated accounts, the suppression of the Press and erratic reportage from all the conflict zones, the actual numbers of fatalities could be considerably higher than those indicated above].
All the peace processes initiated by Islamabad in the aftermath of the elections and installation of the new Government have collapsed, and reports now indicate that massive operations have been initiated by the Army in virtually the entire militancy-affected zones in the NWFP, FATA and Balochistan. Rehman Malik, the Prime Minister's Advisor on Interior Affairs, has rejected the Taliban offer of a cease-fire and vowed to continue military operations against militants without any concessions. Whether this constitutes a decisive course correction or is merely a continuation of the flip-flops that have dominated Pakistan counter-terrorism strategy remains to be seen. 2128 people have been killed in the conflicts across the country since Gilani assumed office as Prime Minister on March 25, 2008.
Militancy-related Violence in Pakistan, April-August 2008
* Between March 25-31
It is not only the security situation that has deteriorated under the new Government. Pakistan is also facing a severe economic crisis. According to the State Bank of Pakistan, "the cash outflow to pay debts, depriving the country of $350 million to $400 million each week from its reserves, is pushing the country fast towards the old days of 1998-99 when it was about to default." Analyst Syed Fazl-e-Haider notes that "Since the beginning of this year, the local currency has lost value against all major international currencies, declining as much as one-fifth against the US dollar." According to him, "The economy is virtually in a shambles. In July, the first month of the current fiscal year, the current account deficit rose to $1 billion, compared with $816 million 12 months earlier. Low inflows have made it difficult for the country to arrange more dollars for external payments."Daily Times reports that foreign exchange reserves have fallen to USD 9.9 billion in August 2008 from USD 16.7 billion in June 2007. Last week, international rating agency Moody's Investors Service said Pakistan risked a further downgrade of its "B2" sovereign credit rating due to the decline in foreign exchange reserves. "If the Government remains unable to govern effectively, then discordant policies and their weak implementation could further set back investor confidence… This would damage Pakistan's balance of payments stability as well as the Government's fiscal financing prospects," the US-based ratings company said. And the Government, which has other ‘pressing concerns’, appears to have little time for economics.
In an interview with the BBC published on August 24, Zardari said Pakistan and the world were losing the war against the Taliban. "I think at the moment [the Taliban] definitely have the upper hand," he said. And the war is stretching from the tribal areas to Pakistan’s urban centres. In the recent past, militants have targeted Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Peshawar, Lahore, Quetta and Karachi, among other towns and cities. On August 21, two suicide bombers blew themselves up at the gates of the Pakistan Ordnance Factories (POF) in the high security cantonment town of Wah, around 30 kilometers from capital Islamabad, killing at least 70 persons in what was described as the deadliest attack on a military installation in the country’s history. The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for the attack. The POF at Wah is a cluster of about 20 industrial units producing artillery, tank and anti-aircraft ammunition for the Pakistani armed forces. It employs around 25,000 to 30,000 workers.
There is now considerable evidence that the proscribed militant groups have re-grouped and are gradually beginning to re-emerge openly. On August 21, Daily Times reported that some groups were reopening their offices in Karachi. The Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT, which is also known as Jama’at-ud-Da’awa), had an office at Salman Terrace, Gulshan-e-Iqbal, near the National Stadium, but it was closed after the ban (in January 2002). However, the LeT has opened a temporary office at the Jamia Darasat al-Islamia, opposite Safari Park in Gulshan-e-Iqbal and after Musharraf’s resignation, the office at Salman Terrace has also been reopened. The Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), another outlawed group, also reopened its office in Manghopir on August 20. Before its proscription, the JeM had its office in Nazimabad and that remains closed. The outlawed Sunni group Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP, now known as Ahle Sunnat-wa-al-Jamaat Pakistan), had its Karachi headquarters at Masjid Siddique-e-Akbar near Nagan Chowrangi in north Karachi and after the ban it remained active from the same area. Although, the office was closed, SSP leaders have reportedly been conducting meetings at this office in the more recent past. According to the Dawn News channel, sectarian slogans, flags and posters of banned sectarian groups are visible on walls across Karachi. The SSP, its Shia rival Sipah-e-Mohammed Pakistan (SMP) and Mukhtar Force are the most conspicuous groups, the report added. The channel quoted its sources as saying that the sealed offices of these groups have reopened, working under different identities. Some of the groups have reportedly held meetings in Qayyumabad, North Karachi and Soldier Bazaar.
A top US military officer also disclosed that al Qaeda militants in Iraq were moving to safe havens in the tribal areas of Pakistan. Commandant of the Marine Corps, General James Conway, stated:
It is evident that the direction Pakistan adopts in the post-Musharraf era will have a significant impact on how the campaign against terrorism progresses in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. Militants are currently attempting to harness the benefits of a political power vacuum, economic crisis and a battle fatigued security establishment. In fact, there is grave instability and a growing void in both ‘frontline states’ in the war on terror.
It is the Pakistan Army which is the lead agency in the counter-terrorism campaign in the FATA and NWFP, backed by the paramiliataries and the Police. In urban areas, the roles are reversed, with the Police and para-militaries piloting CT responses. While the Army is a relatively well equipped force, hamstrung Police forces face a grim challenge fighting the militants. Emboldened by their successes in the tribal zones, moreover, the extremists are increasingly directing the conflict into the urban space. Efforts towards improving the fighting capacity of the law-enforcement agencies have been severely lacking. In the Islamabad Capital Territory (with a current population of approximately 1.207 million), for instance, on an average, the ratio of Police constables to the population stands at 1:873 – a fraction of the ratio needed for peacetime policing, and utterly inadequate to meet the augmenting terrorist threat. The Islamabad Police reportedly lacks even explosive detectors and other equipment to trace a suicide attacker and overwhelmingly relies on manual checking at sensitive places. Commenting in Daily Times, an unnamed source disclosed: "Due to lack of explosive detectors, the capital Police have never succeeded in detecting a single suicide attacker. Only Diplomatic Protection Department of the capital Police, which is responsible for security for a few diplomats, has been provided the necessary equipment by the Interior Ministry." He added, further, that the Police force were protecting a few VVIPs at the cost of the entire city, which was evident from the fact that 3500 Policemen and women were performing duties with the VVIPs, leaving behind only 1,500 police officials to guard a population of over one million. The capital Police had reportedly set up around 54 pickets across the city but those manning them did not even have metal detectors. There have been five major terrorist attacks in Islamabad in 2008, in which 111 persons have died and more than 115 persons were injured..
The Punjab province, which has the biggest Police force of the country with a strength of 161,350 personnel, has its own share of problems. According to the National Police Bureau, "On average, one constable corresponds to 543 people which is quite insufficient to meet the crime challenges." Apart from the provincial capital Lahore, the Punjab Police also has to counter extremism in urban areas like Gujranwala, Faisalabad and Multan.
In the violence-wracked NWFP, the Police struggle with severe shortcomings. According to the National Police Bureau’s Annual Report, 2006, the NWFP Police operate under significant constraints including paucity of funds (only 12 per cent of the annual budget is available to meet Police development requirements); Shortage of Police strength (50 per cent deficit); half of the existing Police Stations lack their own buildings; half of the Districts are without proper Police Lines; less than half of the required/sanctioned authorized transport is available.
For any effective counter-terrorist strategy, Pakistan will have to invest substantial resources in its currently weak and vulnerable Police force. At the operational level, it is the Police that have to identify and neutralize the foot-soldiers of the jihad and the terrorist cells located in urban concentrations, madrassas (religious seminaries) and other public places. But the long period of military rule has immensely weakened the Police forces across Pakistan, who have always functioned under the shadow of the Army – an experience that has generated a crisis of confidence and authority.
Tactically, the increasing reliance on air power to strafe militant targets in the FATA and NWFP has resulted in large numbers of civilian casualties, data for which is currently unavailable. The multiple conflicts across Pakistan have now also led to the issue of large scale displacements. Bajaur Agency alone has generated more than 300,000 refugees just over the months of July-August 2008.
Further, any regaining of territory by the armed forces has proven momentary, with the militants swiftly recovering lost spaces. The state does not have a civil administrative system worth its name in FATA, NWFP and Balochistan, and efforts to hold and sustain territorial gains rely almost exclusively on the presence of the armed forces.
There is also uncertainty over what constitutes the state leadership in Pakistan at the moment. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Asif Ali Zardari, Nawaz Sharif, the ISI and the military establishment are all competing for power, with each of these players complicating the situation even further in the pursuit of divergent personal and partisan agendas. As the country faces mounting jihadist violence and enveloping insecurity, these complexities and contradictions severely undermine capacities for governance and for the restoration of order.
While the situation under Pervez Musharraf was bad enough, the US administration will now find it even more difficult to secure co-operation in prosecuting the campaign against radical Islamists under the new and confused dispensation at Islamabad. Amidst rapidly changing political alignments, US hopes rest essentially on the fact that a "democratically-elected regime will be a more natural partner than the military." While such a formulation may have some intuitive appeal, it does not correspond well with the realities of the ground, with the collapse of the PPP – PML-N coalition. The PML-N, now in the Opposition, will predictably adopt an adversarial orientation on every aspect and issue. The anti-American sentiment in Pakistan, moreover, is not entirely restricted to the jihadis.
Pakistan is expected to have a new President within a week, but, as in the past, the country’s tribulations can hardly be expected to vanish with a mere change in personalities.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
August 25-31, 2007
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.
12 Police personnel killed in landmine explosion in Jharkhand: On August 30, 12 police personnel were killed when the vehicle they were travelling in was blown up in a landmine blast in the East Singhbhum District of Jharkhand. Deputy Superintendent of Police Madhusudan Bari disclosed that the Policemen, led by Sub-inspector Ravi Kant, in-charge of the Digha Police Picket, were on a long range patrol when the landmine planted by suspected Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres exploded near Burudih Dam. All the 12 occupants of the vehicle died on the spot.
On the day after the blast, Chief Minister Shibu Soren, paying homage to the slain policemen, invited the CPI-Maoist for talks. He said, "I want an end to the bloodbath and the Government is ready for talks. If the Maoists have any grievance against the system they should come forward for talks. The Government will talk with them even if they want to come via any agency of their choice." Times of India; The Hindu, August 31-September 1, 2008.
Six security force personnel killed in Chhattisgarh: On August 29, six security force personnel belonging to the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), including an Inspector identified as R.S. Kang, were killed in a landmine explosion triggered by suspected CPI-Maoist cadres in the Narayanpur district. The incident occurred on a state highway when the CRPF team was proceeding on an anti-Maoist operation from Konda to Narayanpur at around 11 AM, CRPF spokesman Ajay Chaturvedi said. The vehicle carrying the team was blown up in the explosion. PTI, August 30, 2008.
39 militants surrender in Assam: On August 28, 39 militants, including 31 cadres of the ‘709’ and ‘27 battalion’ of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), surrendered before the Army at the headquarters of the 21 Mountain Division at Rangia, about 45 kilometres from Guwahati. The others included five Karbi Longri North Cachar Hills Liberation Front (KLNLF) cadres and cadres from the All Adivasi National Liberation Army (AANLA). The surrendered militants deposited a huge cache of arms and ammunition, including pistols, revolvers, grenades, detonators and gelatine sticks. During the negotiations for their surrender, the Deputy Inspector-General of Police (Central-western Range) G.P. Singh said the Police had established contact with the leaders of the ‘709’ and ‘27 battalions’, who are expected to declare a cease-fire soon. Telegraph India, August 30, 2008.
Supreme Court extends stay on order lifting SIMI ban: The Supreme Court on August 25 extended its stay of a Tribunal order quashing the Union Government’s February 7, 2008, notification, which banned the Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), by six weeks. A bench, consisting of Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan and Justice P. Sathasivam, said, "The matter is important. We are ready to hear it. What we are concerned [with] are the documents and records relevant on the date of the ban notification." Previously, on August 6, the Court, acting on the Government’s Special Leave Petition, stayed the Tribunal order for three weeks. The bench asked the Union Government to file a synopsis of submissions and other documents. The Hindu , August 26, 2008.
ISI planning ‘super terrorism’ in India: A report of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) warned that terror groups backed by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) could use chemical, biological, nuclear or radiological weapons against India initiating a form of "super terrorism". The report spoke of active terror modules mushrooming in Bihar, Assam and West Bengal where the sleeper cells have been assigned with specific targets. In its section on terror groups and weapons of mass destruction, the report said "super terrorism in this perspective can be defined as projected future use of chemical, biological, nuclear and radiological weapons by terrorist groups." The report further said that the Indo-Nepal border in Bihar was being used for smuggling of arms, explosives and fake currency into the country, while the ISI was focusing on Uttar Pradesh to fund madrasas (seminaries) and recruit youngsters for subversive activities. South India, too, was an important part of the overall ISI game-plan since it is being targeted to recruit unemployed youths, the report added. PTI, August 29, 2008.
CPI-Maoist claims responsibility for killing VHP leader in Orissa: The CPI-Maoist on August 29 claimed responsibility for the killing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati and four of his disciples in the Kandhamal District on August 23. Azad, spokesperson of the CPI-Maoist, in an interview to an Oriya daily, said, "We killed Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati to avenge his villainous role in Kandhmal". Azad said ever since the December 2007 riots in Kandhmal, Laxmanananda and VHP Secretary General Pravin Togadia portrayed Christians as Maoists and attempted to defeat the revolutionary movement. "Laxmanananda was taking the lead in Hindu fascist activities", Azad said. The outfit, on August 30, issued another statement warning the VHP of "more such punishments if it continued violence against religious minorities in the country." The statement said that the outfit has decided to punish "anti-people, fanatical leaders like Saraswati" in the wake of "endless persecution" of religious minorities.
Separately, a hand-written letter purportedly written by the Communist Party of India-Marxist-Leninist (CPI-ML) Chalatgarh central committee warned some of its "unfaithful comrades" of serious consequences for "joining hands with a group of local-converted Christians of Kandhamal" and killing Swami Laxamanand Saraswati and his disciples. The letter said that few comrades of Chalatgarh and Tumudibandh units were carried away by the "allurement" of some local "influential" Christian missionaries "who wanted to get rid of the seer as they considered him an obstacle to their conversion activity."
As on September 1, 16 persons have been killed in communal clashes in nine Districts of Orissa (Bolangir, Bargarh, Kandhamal, Gajapati, Ganjam, Koraput, Rayagada, Bhadrak and Kendrapada Districts) following the killing of the VHP leader. Times of India; Asian Age; August 31-September 1, 2008.
Military operations in FATA suspended: Interior Adviser Rehman Malik said on August 30 that the Government would suspend the military operations in the FATA on August 31 in view of the holy month of Ramazan. He said, however, that the military would respond "with full force" if it were attacked. "It is not a ceasefire… If they fire a single bullet we will respond with 10 bullets," he added.
The Taliban, operating under the command of Maulana Fazlullah in Swat Valley in North West Frontier Province (NWFP), however, continued their militant activities on August 31, rejecting the Government's announcement. The Taliban spokesman, Muslim Khan said, "The Government should show respect for the entire Holy Quran and announce the enforcement of Shariah on the first Ramazan", clarifying that the ‘cease-fire announcement’ was made by the Government, not by Taliban. "The decision about a cease-fire will be made by our central Shura. We don't believe in cease-fire but want permanent peace in the region which is not possible until the enforcement of Shariah," he said. He added that they could not guarantee peace in the area until the implementation of the peace accord signed on May 21.
Previously, on August 29 and 30, around 65 militants were killed in air strikes targeting militant strongholds in Swat Valley. During the August 30 operations, fighter jets are reported to have bombed hideouts in the Peochar Valley, a stronghold of top Taliban cleric Mullah Fazlullah, and killed 40 militants. Army spokesman Major Nasir Ali said the dead included two senior commanders loyal to Fazlullah. Local officials said Fazlullah escaped the attack, but his group suffered ‘massive damage’. Ali said the group’s ‘core militants’ were killed and its communication network destroyed in the operation. On August 29, at least 25 militants, including two Taliban commanders, were killed in another air strike on militant hideouts in the Swat Valley. A private jail and an ammunition depot of militants were among the air strike targets. A military spokesman in Swat stated that "a core of militants" had perished in the operation. "Their command and communications structure has also been destroyed. This was their key area where they had set up ammunition depots, which were also demolished… This strike was carried out after intelligence that top Taliban cleric Mullah Fazlullah was hiding there," the security official said. Daily Times; Dawn, August 30-31, 2008.
In the Bajaur agency, on August 27, troops had killed at least 50 militants, including some foreign fighters. Security forces (SFs) targeted militants holed up in a health centre, killing 30 of them and wounding many more. In another clash, helicopter gun-ships and aircraft targeted militant hideouts in the Loyesam, Charmang and Ghonday areas of the Agency headquarters at Khar, and Rahgan, and the Aupusht and Dherai areas of Salarzai Sub-division, killing eight militants and injuring 12 others. Police said another eight militants died and 10 sustained injuries when SFs fired on suspect vehicles in two areas of Bajaur, though the reported casualties could not be verified independently. Daily Times; The News, August 28-September 1, 2008.
23 Taliban militants and two soldiers killed in clashes in South Waziristan: At least 23 Taliban militants and two soldiers were killed, while 20 militants and seven soldiers were injured on August 27 after clashes broke out in different areas of South Waziristan. The Taliban attacked a check-post in Tiarza, three kilometers off Wana in the night of August 26. The SFs countered the attack, killing 11 militants and injuring 20 others. Fierce fighting between the two sides reportedly continued throughout August 27. Two soldiers were killed and seven others sustained injuries when the Taliban attacked three Army vehicles near Wana bazaar in the evening. Fighting was intensified in different areas after the attack on the Army convoy. Another 12 militants were killed in the clashes. Further, a woman and a man were killed after a mortar shell hit their house. The News; Dawn, August 28, 2008.
Government bans Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan: The Interior Ministry, on August 25, banned the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and said that the Government will freeze its bank accounts and assets. "This organisation is a terrorist organisation and created mayhem against public life," Interior Adviser Rehman Malik told reporters in Peshawar. Anyone aiding a proscribed organisation – through financial assistance, promoting them in literature or in other ways – can be jailed for up to 10 years under anti-terrorism laws. Malik also said the Government was considering announcing rewards for people who provide information leading to the arrest or killing of Taliban leaders. The announcement came a day after the Government rejected a unilateral cease-fire offer by the group in Bajaur Agency in the FATA. However, a TTP spokesman claimed the ban was "meaningless". "Our organisation is neither registered nor do we have any bank accounts," Muslim Khan said. Daily Times, August 26, 2008.
176 LTTE militants and 22 soldiers among 198 persons killed during the week: 176 Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) militants and 22 soldiers were among 198 persons killed in separate incidents between August 25 and August 31, 2008. 12 LTTE militants were killed and 12 others were wounded during clashes with the Army in the east of Thunukkai, Vannavikulam, Palamoddai, Andankulam, north of Kiriibbanwewa and other areas of Kilinochchi and Vavuniya Districts on August 24. At least 17 LTTE militants were killed and 60 others injured during clashes with the security forces (SFs) in the Koliyankulam, Navakkulam, Andankulam, Nitthikaikulam and Palamoddai areas of Vavuniya District, Alankulam in the Mullaitivu District and Wannarikulam in Kilinochchi District on August 26. Two soldiers were killed while 16 others sustained injuries in LTTE mortar fire and explosions of anti-personnel mines and booby traps during the fighting in these areas. Separately, the troops clashed with the LTTE militants in the Kilali, Puthur and Thorankadu areas of Jaffna District and killed another 10 militants. Further, on August 27, 11 LTTE cadres were killed and 13 others injured during an encounter with the SFs in the Palamoddai area of Vavuniya District. One soldier was also killed in an improvised explosive device (IED) explosion while two others sustained injuries during the fighting and by anti-personnel mines. Troops captured the strategic Palamoddai Town, six kilometres northwest of the Omanthai entry exit point in the Vavuniya District on August 28. The troops also captured the Uluththuveli area in the Mullaitivu District. On the same day, at least 19 militants and four soldiers were killed while 32 persons were injured during clashes between the two sides in the east of Thunukkai, Alankulam and areas about two kilometres to the east of Nachchakuda in Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu Districts. Troops later captured the Alankulam area. Also, at least 18 LTTE militants were killed and five others injured during clashes with the SFs in the Vavunikkulam, Nitthikaikulam and Andankulam areas in Mullaitivu and Vavuniya Districts. One soldier was killed while 19 others sustained injuries during these clashes. Separately, the SFs confronted LTTE militants in the Palamoddai and Navakkulam areas of Vavuniya District, killing at least 15 of them. The troops captured four trench lines and recovered the dead bodies of two militants after the clashes in the Palamoddai area. Further, on August 31, troops confronted a group of militants at Konketiyawa in the Padaviya area of Vavuniya District and subsequently recovered the dead bodies of 10 militants. Sri Lanka Army; Daily News; Colombo Page, August 26- September 1, 2008.