Red agencies/ districts controlled by the Taliban; purple is defacto control; yellow is under threat.
Pakistan’s insurgency in the Northwest Frontier Province intensified over the last week as major clashes are underway in the Taliban and al Qaeda sanctuary of North Waziristan. Upwards of 200 have been reported killed in the fighting, which includes artillery barrages and helicopter and attack aircraft assaults. The Pakistani military claims 120 Taliban and 45 soldiers have been killed in the fighting, but independent reports put the number of soldiers killed much higher.
Heavy fighting between the Taliban and the Pakistani military has been reported for the fourth day in a row in and around the town of Mir Ali, an al Qaeda stronghold. Pakistani fighter-bomber have been called in to conduct airstrikes on Taliban positions in the region, while over 50,000 civilians are said to be fleeing the area.
The fighting began over the weekend after the Taliban ambushed a Pakistani Army convoy near the town of Ahmad Khel October 6. A roadside bomb attack was followed by a rocket-propelled grenade and small-arms fire ambush. One soldier was killed and 19 wounded.
On October 7, the fighting spread to Mir Ali. The Taliban attacked a series of checkpoints and bases in the region, and the army responded with a ground assault and Cobra gunship attacks on enemy positions. Ten soldiers and 35 Taliban fighters were reported killed. The Taliban claimed it captured 28 Frontier Corps paramilitary soldiers in a separate ambush. The Pakistani military Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) referred to the Taliban claim as “highly erroneous.”
On October 8, clashes between the army and the Taliban resulted in 20 soldiers and 60 Taliban killed. Fifty Pakistani soldiers were reported missing in action south of Mir Ali in the Hasu Khel and Shahbaz Khel regions after two check posts and a patrol were attacked. The soldier’s “communication system was effected after clashes with militants,” the ISPR reported. The ISPR stated 30 soldiers later reestablished contact with the military.
The Pakistani military appears to be taking far greater casualties than being reported. Syed Saleem Shahzad reported that “Dozens of Pakistani soldiers are still missing and the death toll is expected to rise.” The bodies of 73 Pakistani soldiers were turned over to the army, while negotiations are underway for a separate transfer of soldiers killed.
On Monday, a jirga or tribal council of Muslim scholars including Moulvi Nek Zaman — a member of parliament from North Waziristan — met the commander of 7th division of the Pakistan army, Major General Ghulam Dastagir, and handed over the bodies of 73 Pakistani soldiers.
A member of the jirga, on condition of anonymity, told Adnkronos International (AKI) that the militants had handed over the bodies to the jirga. The jirga members also handed over 50 seriously wounded military personnel who had been seized by the militants as well as 10 burnt vehicles.
With the consent of both the Pakistan army and the militants, another jirga was sent to collect bodies from Khushali village, 10 kilometers away from the North Waziristan town of Mir Ali, where the fighting has been taking place.
The Pakistani military has repeatedly understated casualties of troops fighting against the Taliban and al Qaeda in the Northwest Frontier Province. The military claimed about 1,000 troops were killed during the Waziristan campaigns in 2004 through 2006. The real number is thought to be well over 3,000 Pakistani troops killed.
North Waziristan serves as a Taliban and al Qaeda stronghold. Al Qaeda’s Hamza bin Laden, Osama’s son and possible successor, has been recently reported to have arrived in the region.
Taliban and allied terrorist groups have established 29 training camps in North and neighboring South Waziristan. The Pakistani government signed a “peace accord” with the Taliban in September 2006. The Pakistani government was to withdraw the military in exchange for the Taliban halting cross-border attacks into Afghanistan and ejecting “foreigners” from the region.
The Taliban immediately violated the terms of the accord when it established a shadow administration, opened recruiting offices, taxed the populations, enforced sharia law, attacked Pakistani troops, and conducted a campaign of murder and intimidation against its rivals. Numerous terrorist attacks and plots against India, Britain, Spain, Afghanistan, and Pakistan itself have been traced back to North Waziristan.
See The Fall of the Northwest Frontier Province for the full history of the rise of the Taliban and al Qaeda in Pakistan’s tribal regions and beyond.