Map of the tribal areas and the Northwest Frontier Province. The government signed peace agreements in the red agencies/ districts (the military said Shangla was under Taliban control in October); purple districts are under de facto Taliban control; yellow regions are under Taliban influence.
The Taliban launched a major assault on a Frontier Corps base housing an elite counterterrorism force early Sunday morning, sparking a battle that killed at least 10 Pakistani paramilitary troops and more than 40 Taliban fighters.
An estimated 600 Taliban fighters crossed the border from Afghanistan and joined forces with Taliban fighters in the Mohmand tribal agency, according to reports. At 2:00 AM local time, the Taliban force then attacked the Mamad Gate base with mortar and rocket fire, then attempted to storm the base. The Quick Reaction Force, a counterterrorism force created by former President Pervez Musharraf in 2003, operates from the base.
The Pakistani paramilitary troops repelled the attack after fierce fighting, but it appears the Taliban force partially breached the perimeter. In addition to the 10 paramilitary troops killed, more than 25 have been reported missing and are thought to have been captured by the Taliban.
The Taliban also attacked a Frontier Corps checkpoint at Lakro in Mohmand, killing five Frontier Corps troops.
Mohmand has become a major battleground in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal areas. Fighting in the Bajaur tribal agency to the north has spilled over to Mohmand, while Taliban forces have launched attacks from Mohmand into the neighboring settled district of Peshawar.
Mohmand also borders the volatile Afghan provinces of Kunar and Nangarhar. US and Afghan forces have been battling Taliban forces in Kunar, the second most violent province in Afghanistan. The Taliban control several districts in Kunar and Nangarhar.
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari boasted the military would retake control of Mohmand and Bajaur by the end of 2008. Fighting is still raging in Bajaur. Today, the Taliban captured four members of the Pakistan Army’s Razakar Force. The four soldiers were tortured and had their ears chopped off.
Despite the Taliban advance in the northwest, the Pakistani Army has begun to redeploy at least two divisions, or an estimated 30,000 of the 100,000 troops deployed in the region back to the eastern border with India. Tensions over the Mumbai terror attack, which was carried out by the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba, have raised fears of an Indian attack.
Taliban fighting as a military force
The Pakistani military is fighting a determined Taliban force in the tribal agencies, US military and intelligence sources told The Long War Journal last year. The Taliban and their allies have organized into military formations capable of fighting at the battalion and in some cases the brigade level. Today’s attack in Mohmand comprised a force of at least battalion strength, with supporting mortar and rocket fires.
Pakistani officials confirmed the sophistication and organization of the Taliban in the tribal areas. During heavy fighting in Bajaur last fall, Pakistani military officials said the Taliban “have good weaponry and a better communication system (than ours).”
“Even the sniper rifles they use are better than some of ours,” the Pakistani official told Dawn “Their tactics are mind-boggling and they have defenses that would take us days to build. It does not look as though we are fighting a rag-tag militia; they are fighting like an organized force.”
The Taliban has conducted complex operations against the Pakistani security forces in the tribal areas in 2007 and 2008. The Taliban, under the command of Baitullah Mehsud, captured an entire company of regular Pakistani Army soldiers as well as took over several military outposts in South Waziristan in 2007. In 2008, Taliban forces overran several forts in South Waziristan, eventually forcing the Frontier Corps to abandon the region.
Taliban forces have conducted battalion-sized operations outside the tribal areas. In July 2008, a Taliban force laid siege to a police station and a fort in Hangu. The fort was abandoned by the Frontier Corps and the Taliban destroyed it. Operations of this scale have been reported in Swat and Shangla in 2008.
Like the Taliban, al Qaeda is upgrading its ability to conduct conventional military operations. Al Qaeda has reformed its paramilitary wing in the tribal areas over the past several years. The terror group has re-formed Brigade 055, the infamous military arm of the terror group made up of Arab recruits. The unit was commanded by Shaikh Khalid Habib al Shami, who was killed in a US Predator airstrike in North Waziristan in October 2008.
Brigade 055 fought alongside the Taliban against the Northern Alliance and was decimated during the US invasion of Afghanistan. Several other Arab brigades have been formed, some consisting of former members of Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guards, an intelligence official told The Long War Journal.
Al Qaeda, the Taliban, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and Hizb-e-Islami joined forces to conduct a complex assault on a US outpost in Wanat in Nuristan province in July 2008. The attack was repelled, but resulted in the loss of nine US soldiers, the largest loss by US forces in a single engagement in Afghanistan to date.
The establishment of Taliban and al Qaeda military formations has been facilitated by the establishment of terror training camps in the tribal areas and the Northwest Frontier Province.
More than 150 camps and more than 400 support locations were reported to be in operation, senior US intelligence officials told The Long War Journal in the summer of 2007. Some of the camps are devoted to training the Taliban’s military arm, some train suicide bombers for attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan, some focus on training the various Kashmiri terror groups, some train al Qaeda operatives for attacks in the West, and one serves as a training ground for the Black Guard, the elite bodyguard for Osama bin Laden, Ayman al Zawahiri, and other senior al qaeda leaders.
For more information on the Taliban’s development of its military forces, see:
July 11, 2008
July 14, 2008
Aug. 1, 2008
Aug. 13, 2008
Sept. 23, 2008