Pakistani troops retreat after Taliban onslaught in Bajaur


Pakistan's paramilitary Frontier Corps retreated from the Loisam region in the Bajaur tribal after heavy fighting with the Taliban over the past four days. Scores of Pakistani paramilitary troops have been reported killed and scores more captured.

The fighting in Bajaur began on Aug. 7 after government forces moved to occupy the Loisam region. A large Taliban force surrounded and ambushed a 200-man convoy of Frontier Corps forces moving into the region.

Heavy fighting broke out after the Frontier Corps troops attempted to break the encirclement. Pakistani aircraft, helicopters, and artillery joined the fray, reportedly causing heavy casualties among the large Taliban force, estimated at several hundred fighters

The Frontier Corps claimed more than 100 Taliban fighters were killed in the fighting. But Taliban spokesman Mullah Omar disputed the charge, saying no more than 10 of its fighters were killed.

The Frontier Corps also said eight troops were killed and 15 wounded during the four-day battle. But a variety of sources told the Pakistani media that the Frontier Corps was bloodied during the heavy fighting.

Mullah Omar claimed between 80 and 100 paramilitary troops were killed, and another 35 were taken hostage. A security source told Dawn that 55 Frontier Corps troops were taken captive. The Taliban turned over the bodies of 22 troops to tribal elders.

The Frontier Corps force was nearly routed, taking an estimated 60 percent casualties if the Taliban's account holds up. The Pakistani military has hidden casualties taken during fighting in the tribal areas in the past.

The Taliban also claimed to have captured two armored vehicles as well as ammunition trucks. In all 25 vehicles were reported to have been captured by the Taliban and another 10 were set fire.

The remaining Frontier Corps force broke the Taliban cordon and fled to their base in Khar, the seat of the tribal agency. Frontier Corps and military officials described the retreat as "a strategy" and refused to admit defeat. "We cannot say we have failed," said military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas.

The Taliban quickly began consolidating their positions, and hundreds of fighters are digging in on the outskirts of Khar near the Frontier Corps headquarters. Taliban forces are also seizing some abandoned check posts and blowing up others along the road to Peshawar.

Bajaur fell under Taliban control after a series of peace deals were signed beginning in 2007. Loisam is near the town of Damadola, where US Predator unmanned aircraft targeted Ayman al Zawahiri in January 2006.

The Bajaur tribal agency is al Qaeda's command and control hub for operations across the border in northeastern Afghanistan. Bajaur is run by Faqir Mohammed, who assumed control of the radical Tehrik Nifaz-e-Sharia Mohammadi (the TNSM, or the Movement for the Implementation of Mohammad's Sharia Law) after the arrest of Sufi Mohammed.

The TNSM is known as the "Pakistani Taliban" and is the group behind the ideological inspiration for the Afghan Taliban. The TNSM sent over 10,000 fighters into Afghanistan to fight US forces during the opening stages of Operation Enduring Freedom in late 2001 and 2002. Sufi was jailed by the Pakistani government after the TNSM was banned. He was later released as part of a peace deal in May 2008.

Faqir has close links with the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban, as well as senior al Qaeda leaders. He is believed to shelter senior al Qaeda leaders such as Ayman al Zawahiri. The US has conducted at least two airstrikes against safe houses and camps run by Faqir since January 2006.

In December 2007, Faqir rolled the TNSM under the banner of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, which is led by South Waziristan Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud. Faqir is also second in command of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan.


For background on the recent fighting in Bajaur, see:

Pakistani forces clash with Taliban in Bajaur, Aug. 7, 2008
Fighting escalates in Pakistan's Bajaur tribal agency, Aug. 9, 2008



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READER COMMENTS: "Pakistani troops retreat after Taliban onslaught in Bajaur"

Posted by Alex at August 11, 2008 12:35 AM ET:

Well, this is what happens when you go into war with only a half-hearted commitment. Why didn't the Frontier Corps just call in air strikes when it looked like things were getting out of hand?

Posted by KaneKaizer at August 11, 2008 2:21 AM ET:

You can't really trust either the Pakistani or Taliban death toll claims. You just have to assume it's somewhere in between the two, whether we're talking Pakistani troops or Taliban killed.

Posted by jeandon at August 11, 2008 5:03 AM ET:

Hey guys, give the Paks some credit, they at least stand and fight for their country in this case, instead of running. They should be praised and encouraged.

Hundreds of dug-in taliban? Hmmm, oh for a couple of special ops guys on horseback who can call down unlimited quantities of 2,000 lb bombs with exquisite precision. let's make it happen!

Posted by C. Jordan at August 11, 2008 6:42 AM ET:

New video tape from Al-Zawahiri...
Could this tape be old?
Or is this AQ trying to say that the rat is still alive?

http://www.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/asiapcf/08/10/pakistan.alqaeda/index.html

Posted by Bill Roggio at August 11, 2008 8:08 AM ET:

KaneKaizer,

Actually, in Pakistan, the Taliban has been very accurate in the past when reporting casualties and captures. For instance, last fall they claimed to have taken more than 300 troops captive in South Waziristan. The military initially denied anything happened, and claimed they got lost in weather. Then they said about 100 were captured. When all was said and done, more than 300 were captured.

The same type of thing happened earlier this year when the Taliban overran forts in South Waziristan. The military first said the fort wasn't taken, then announced an operation to retake it the next day.

The Pakistani military has lied about casualties taken numerous times in the past.

It's sad to say, but when it comes to this issue, the Taliban are far more trustworthy.

Posted by Raj Kumar at August 11, 2008 10:42 AM ET:

Sorry people the Pakistani soliders and officers will not fight the Taliban.

An army whose motto is 'Jihad in the way of Islam', will not fight the Taliban. Whatever the flavour of the Taliban.

In order to pickup a gun and fire at someone you need to believe in something higher and how can we expect the Pakistani soilder or officer to fire at people who are simply doing things which you are 'supposed' to be doing i.e. Jihad in the way of Islam.

Posted by David M at August 11, 2008 10:43 AM ET:

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 08/11/2008 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

Posted by Neo at August 11, 2008 1:55 PM ET:

I'm afraid the Taliban is going to capitalize on it's punishment of Pakistani Frontier Corps. They will tell them: "See what happens when you are on the wrong side, better come over to our side if you want to keep your head." I'm afraid this will only soften up the Frontier Corps. Going with short engagements than cutting off contact, avoids outright losses like this. The problem with repeatedly breaking off engagements and never standing your ground is that it is bad for morale and looks like you either aren't serous about the fight or you are breaking off because otherwise you are going to get beat (true). They don't risk using regular Pakistani troops because of the risk of spreading discontent through the Punjab community. For now they are using under-trained Forntier Corps troops which seems to be a losing proposition.


We might step up our own attacks on Taliban targets slightly. Up to this point we have been very selective with about cross boarder attacks, going after only the very highest value targets. It may be time to open up the target list just a bit. That would give the Taliban a little more to think about, and also probe the level of Pakistani reaction. They would still need to be very careful to avoid incidents in areas with Pakistani troop concentrations.

I doubt if the US tries anything on the ground until the US election is over. There are just too many things that can cause a ruckus among elements of the international press. Drawing down troop levels in Iraq will help our overall posture also. There is the matter of getting a few more brigades into Afghanistan. Also, things are still pretty tight on finding all the needed troops and having a little reserve for whatever contingency pops up.

Posted by Bangash Khan at March 1, 2009 1:15 AM ET:

Bajaur has been cleaned of Taliban after a six months effort. Bill Roggio should be more fair towards Pakistanis, instead of being habitually against them.