Pakistan hits al Qaeda, Taliban camp; Taliban spokesman captured
Attack occurs in South Waziristan as SecDef Gates visits Afghanistan; a pattern of Pakistani behavior
Early this morning, the Pakistani military struck at an al Qaeda and Taliban camp in the Zamazola region of South Waziristan. "The attack was launched at 6:55am this morning by army gunship helicopters against the hideouts of militants in Salamat Keley of Zamazola area," said Major General Shaukat Sultan, the spokesman for the Pakistani military. "The foreign militants were imparting training to the local youth of terrorism and suicide attacks."
There were five buildings within the compound, and three were targeted and destroyed by 5 to 7 attack helicopters. The number of killed in the attack is still unknown. The Pakistani army claimed 25-30 "miscreants" were killed, while local agency officials claim 8-10 were killed, including civilians. Maj Gen Sultan said troops are on the ground pulling bodies from the wreckage. If the past is any indicator, the U.S. hunter killer teams of Task Force 145 were involved in the strikes.
The attack on the training camp occurred within hours of U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates' meeting with Afghan officials and U.S. military leaders. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has been on the defensive of late after the U.S. and Afghan President Hamid Karzai have said western Pakistan is a Taliban and al Qaeda safe haven.
The timing of the Pakistani attack is interesting, and fits a pattern of Pakistan conducting strikes against Taliban and al Qaeda bases to deflect political pressure. In March of 2006, Pakistan allowed Task Force 145 to attack the Danda Saidgai camp, an al Qaeda training facility for Osama bin Laden's elite bodyguards, the Black Guard, just prior to President Bush's visit to the country. al Qaeda responded by attacking the U.S. Consulate in Karachi in a suicide carbomb strike, and killed a U.S. diplomat.
The Pakistani military and Task Force 145 attacked the Chingai madrassa / al Qaeda training camp in Bajaur just one day prior to the aborted Bajaur Accord, which would have ceded the agency to the Liaquat Hussain and Faqir Mohammad's Tehreek-e-Nifaaz-e-Shariah-e-Mohammadi (TNSM), also known as the Pakistani Taliban. The U.S. was pressuring Pakistan after the disastrous results from the Waziristan Accord and Faqir's statements in support of Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. Ayman al-Zawahiri was believed to have been at the madrassa, and had frequented the camp.
The Taliban and al Qaeda responded by conducting a suicide strike at the Pakistani Army training camp in Dargai, which killed 45 soldiers.
The strike on Taliban crossing the border in South Waziristan last weekend was also the result of U.S. pressure. According to a military source in Afghanistan, NATO forced Pakistan into conducting the strikes.
Elsewhere along the Pakistan-Afghan border, Dr. Muhammad Hanif was captured by Afghan security forces after crossing the border from Pakistan's tribal agencies into Nangarhar province. Hanif has made numerous statements to the press on the Taliban's activities in Afghanistan. It is unknown if he had direct, face to face contact with Taliban leader Mullah Omar or other members of the Shura Majlis, the highest Taliban consultive council. Hanif's notes and any computer or communications equipment potentially found during his capture should yield further intelligence on the Taliban's activities on both sides of the border.
See The Fall of Waziristan: An Online History for more information.