Airstrikes on Bajaur Training Camps
Bajaur madrassa and training camp hit by helicopter assault; up to 80 killed
Satellite map of Bajaur and neighboring Kunar province in Afghanistan. Location of strike in Chingai in red. Click image to view.
Just two days after Faqir Mohammed held a tribal meeting in Bajaur to express support for the Taliban and al Qaeda, and vowed to fight the West, the Pakistani government conducted a major strike against a madrassa being used as a terror training camp. Up to 80 were killed in what appears to be a helicopter assault on the camp in the Bajaur town of Chenagai. Pakistan's The News reports "the operation involved army helicopter gunships and precision weapons."
"We had information about the presence of 70 to 80 miscreants who were engaging in militant training in a madrassa in Khar," said Pakistani spokesman Major General Shaukat Sultan. "The compound has been destroyed." The term "miscreant" is often used to describe 'foreigners,' or al Qaeda. Dawn reports "The bodies of 20 people wrapped in sheets were laid out at funeral prayers nearby after the attack." News reports are beginning to claim children were killed in the attack, which is possible as the Taliban has been know to place civilians in military sites to create such a situation. Madrassa are also used to indoctrinate youths into the Taliban's radical ideology. An American intelligence source tells us that this was but one of "22 known camps in the Federally Administered Tribal Agencies."
Pakistani tribesmen offer prayers during a funeral of Taliban who died in the Pakistani military attack. Image courtesy of the Associated Press. Click image to view.
It is not believed any major al Qaeda figures were present at the time of the strike. A good sign of this will be if any Uzbeks or Chechens are reported killed, as these two groups have deep roots in the Taliban and al Qaeda in the region. Liaquat Hussain, the person that ran the madrassa, was believed to have been killed. And the ubiquitous Faqir Mohammed, who hosted the January Taliban and al Qaeda leadership dinner party in Damadola, is also believed to have been inside the mosque during the strike. His death has not been confirmed. The custom of immediately burying the dead in unmarked graves makes it difficult to quickly identify those killed. The recent confirmation of the death of Muhsin Musa Matwalli Atwah highlights this problem. He was killed in a similar strike in Danda Saidgai in North Waziristan in April of 2006, and was only positively identified at the end of October.
While the Pakistanis are taking credit for this strike, the question arises as to whether this may have been conducted by Task Force 145, the U.S. special operations terrorist hunter-killer teams. Task Force 145 was responsible for the April raid in Danda Saidgai on the al Qaeda's training camp for Osama bin Laden's Black Guard, his elite praetorian guard. Pakistan initially took credit for the Danda Saidgai strikes, but the Washington Post later revealed this was indeed a U.S. mission. Dawn notes the raid occurred "at around 5:00 am," which means it was conducted in the dark. Pakistani helicopter pilots would need night training in flight and targeting.
A question that arises is: will the Pakistani government proceed with negotiating a 'Bajaur Accord,' an agreement modeled on the Waziristan Accord, where the Pakistani government surrendered local control to the Taliban and al Qaeda? "This attack is very strange as we were told Sunday that the peace agreement would be signed today," the Associated Press quotes local lawmaker Mohammed Sadiq. The April strike in Danda Saidgai did not preclude the government or the Taliban and al Qaeda for signing the Waziristan Accord just five month later.
Another question is what is the motivation for the strike? Just days ago, the Pakistani government released nine al Qaeda linked members of Faqir Mohammed's staff. This, along with the signing of the Waziristan Accord and the subsequent increase of infiltration and attacks along the Afghan side of the border has caused an international backlash against the Pakistani government. The Pakistanis have a knack for delivering a high level al Qaeda leader or conducting a high profile strike when the need arises. The strike on Danda Saidgai occurred just as President Bush visited Pakistan and less than a week after the bombing of the Karachi Consulate that killed a U.S. diplomat. Britain's Prince Charles, the future King of England, is currently visiting Pakistan. The NATO commander in Afghanistan, General James Jones, has just visited Pakistan and stated "the movements [of Taliban and al Qaeda] across the border have increased since the signing of agreements on the other side of the border," referring to the Wazristan Accord.