Taliban advance eastward, threaten Islamabad


Click map for full view. Taliban presence, by district and tribal agency, in the Northwest Frontier Province and the Federally Administered Tribal Agencies. Information on Taliban presence obtained from open source and derived by The Long War Journal based on the presence of Taliban shadow governments, levels of fighting, and reports from the region. Map created by Bill Raymond for The Long War Journal. Last updated: April 14, 2009.

The Taliban are pushing past the districts of Swat and Buner and are threatening Islamabad, a senior Islamist member of parliament said at a briefing.

The Taliban have consolidated control over the district of Buner and are moving on Mansehra and Haripur. These two regions, which are just on the outskirts of Islamabad and Rawalpindi, have been relatively spared from the violent Taliban insurgency that has plagued the Northwest.

The Taliban have entered the district of Mansehra and are threatening to take control of the Tarbela Dam in neighboring Haripur district, said Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the chief of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl, an Islamist political party, during a debate in parliament.

"If the Taliban continue to move at this pace, they will soon be knocking at the doors of Islamabad as the Margala Hills seem to be the only hurdle in their march towards the federal capital," Fazl said, according to a report in The News. "After occupying Buner, they have reached Kala Dhaka and may also be taking over the water reservoir of the Tarbela Dam."

Pakistan has reportedly rushed paramilitary forces into Buner today, but some units were attacked by the Taliban stationed there. Six platoons of Frontier Constabulary forces were sent into Buner to secure government buildings. One policeman was reported killed after the Taliban ambushed a convoy, The Associated Press reported. The military claimed the Taliban only control 25 percent of Buner, but Taliban fighters have been reported in all of the major regions in the district.

The Taliban advance on Mansehra and Haripur takes place at the same time they are moving on the districts of Swabi, Mardan, and Malakand. The takeover of these five districts would essentially cement the Taliban's control of the province.

The Taliban takeover of Haripur would put the Taliban on the doorstep of Islamabad and would also put two major nuclear facilities at risk.

Haripur borders the Margala Hills, a region in the Islamabad Capital Territory. Haripur also borders the Punjab districts of Attock and Rawalpindi.

Attock hosts two major nuclear facilities in Pakistan: the Wah Cantonment Ordnance Complex and the Kamra (Minhas) Airbase. The Wah Cantonment Ordnance Complex host three sites where nuclear weapons and components are stored and assembled and aircraft and missiles are modified for use in nuclear attacks. The nearby Kamra Airbase is thought to host attack aircraft capable of delivering nuclear weapons.

Rawalpindi is the "garrison" city for Pakistan's military. The city hosts the headquarters of the Army and Air Force, and several nuclear weapons research facilities are also located there.

During 2007 and 2008, The Taliban and al Qaeda conducted several suicide attacks at Pakistani facilities that are thought to house nuclear weapons and research facilities. It is unclear if the suicide attacks were a demonstration of the groups' capacity to penetrate security at sensitive locations or merely attacks on targets of opportunity.

On Aug. 21, 2008, two Taliban suicide bombers killed 70 Pakistanis and wounded more than 1,000 in attacks outside the munitions factory in the Wah complex.

Suicide bombers targeted security forces on or near the Sargodha Air Force Base during the summer and fall of 2007. Sargodha Air Force Base is in the district of Sargodha in central Punjab province.

The Sargodha Air Force Base serves as the "headquarters of the Pakistan Air Force's Central Air Command and home base for nuclear-capable F-16 combat aircraft, and Hatf-III/Ghaznavi/M-11 ballistic missiles," NTI reported. "Analysts believe that the F-16s have been most likely modified for nuclear delivery. Some analysts believe that components or partially assembled air-deliverable nuclear devices might be stored at an ammunition depot at the Sargodha air base."

On Aug. 2, 2007, Pakistani police prevented a suicide bomber from attacking a parade at a police training facility. On Nov. 1, 2007, a suicide bomber drove his motorcycle into a bus carrying military and intelligence officers at the air base. Eight were killed and 27 wounded in the strike.

There have been 56 major attacks against the police, the Army, the Frontier Corps, and other Pakistani security and intelligence services since July 2007 when the Musharraf government cleared the radical, pro-Taliban Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, in the heart of the capital of Islamabad.



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READER COMMENTS: "Taliban advance eastward, threaten Islamabad"

Posted by Adayamo at April 23, 2009 12:10 PM ET:

I wonder whether the Pakistani Army will step up against the Taliban when they're knocking on their doors in Rawalpindi.
I doubt that they will let the Taliban encircle Rawalpindi or even take it.

At some point they have to fight them.
The paramilitaries in Buner won't make any difference there.

Posted by remoteman at April 23, 2009 12:38 PM ET:

When do the Taliban become a greater threat to the Pak military than India? Will it be when they surround Rawalpindi? Perhaps when they are running loose on the streets of Islamabad. Who knows. What is certain is that the devolution of the state of Pakistan is happening very quickly before our eyes.

Posted by Solomon2 at April 23, 2009 1:15 PM ET:

I don't see why we expect the Pakistani Army to fight the Taliban. Most of the PA is oriented for conventional combat with India. The idea of any combat that could result in the death of Pakistani Muslim civilians seems to be anathema - these soldiers won't battle those who have a gun pointed at the heads of their own families. The Mumbai Massacre resulted in a greatly welcomed redeployment of most forces who were engaged in battling terrorists to the Indian border, and the Talibs vowed non-aggression towards the PA in exchange.

Why should the PA defend the government at all? The Taliban's takeover of Swat was scarcely opposed in Parliament. If even democratically-elected politicians are unwilling to defend terror over democracy then the ultimate victory of the Taliban seems certain. All the Army has to do is stay put until the Taliban authorize it to invade India. The resulting war may be a failure, but PA officers can look forward to it at least enhancing their prestige, and likely their personal wealth as well.

Posted by Spooky at April 23, 2009 2:36 PM ET:

The FC are going to be slaughtered (again) if they try to directly engage the Taliban. Unlike the Army, they actually want to take on the enemy, but also unlike the Army they have no good weaponry and worse pay.

I have to wonder, whenever the police are sitting in the stations twiddling their thumbs everytime another province falls, do they just wait for the opportune moment to fight back, side with the Taliban, or abandon their posts? I can't imagine them living at the camps and police stations for very long....

The Taliban haven't been able to take out the minor Army facilities in Kohat yet, so them taking Haripur is, for now anyway, impossible. However, I can see them using any operation against Kohat as a sort of field test for how the bigger military facilities will be when they make their move on them too....

Posted by ramsis at April 23, 2009 2:45 PM ET:

if this isn't a text book example of the dangers of appeasment then I don't know what is. It is merely a matter of time now when the Taliban take full control over all of pakistan and its nuclear arsonal. I have no doubt that when control is seized the next likley step will be a nuclear attack on India or a NATO base somewhere in afgahnistan. hundreds of thousands (if not millions) will die in the attack and in retalitory responses. Our current strategy of Hope and apology will not stem the coming tide of nuclear war and it's clearly unlikely that the international community will attempt a full scale, costly and uncertain invasion of pakistan to try and stop the Taliban. That will only leave us with planning what our retalitory resonse will be since prevention is not even an option under our current "political" climate. God help us and the millions of lives that now hang in the balance.

Posted by beloml at April 23, 2009 3:53 PM ET:

Ramsis, What is your sense of a timeline for all of this?

Posted by ramsis at April 23, 2009 4:51 PM ET:

based on the speed of advance of Taliban control in just the last month I feel the influenced contested areas will fall within the next year leavin two holdouts wich will then fall a short time later in a coup by pakistans sympathetic inteligence service. Zardari has some hope from wealthy land owners and tribal elders willing to hire or build their own militias but without proper support from outside pakistan they will prove futile in the advance of the taliban and its suppoting warlords. Of course any of this can change depending on what sort of support pakistan gets from the international community. If I were Zardari I would ask for a international force to safegard the countrys nuclear arsenal and then concentrate on purging the government of sympathetic threats from within. that might by some time time to employ a slow ink blot strategy extending from the capitol outward but even thats a longshot.

Posted by Spooky at April 23, 2009 5:45 PM ET:

Taliban won't get all of Pakistan. Pakistan is like humpty dumpty. All they need to do is take the capital and it will balkanize. The parts not yet HEAVILY affected by the Taliban (south Balochistan, most of Sindh) will break off either together or seperately. Neither would mind Indian/Western assistance (as much) and thus the coast and Pakistan's naval assets could be secured fairly quickly, along with a great deal of their militayr infrastructure (located in Sindh).

Still a bad situation, but better than all of Pakistan going.

Posted by Byron Coolbee at April 23, 2009 6:09 PM ET:

If there isn't a major change in policy soon I see most of the Middle East going that way soon. We may be facing a grassroots movement at an international level toward a reactionary political policy and cultural hostility on the part of Arab ethnic groups as Western cultural practices slowly creep in. Humpty Dumpty indeed.

Posted by C. Jordan at April 23, 2009 6:11 PM ET:

I wonder, at what point, the U.S. will invade Pakistan, if it falls to the Taliban?

Posted by Marcase at April 23, 2009 6:44 PM ET:

I fear it might all come down to a high-stakes pokergame; the Pak Army and ISI might let the Talibs take part of Islamabad before intervening, regaining a big seat at the governments table (which they lost under Musharraf).

Posted by davidp at April 23, 2009 7:20 PM ET:

Isn't it time for the Pakistan Army to do some special forces missions agains the taliban ? If taliban drive convoys around areas, track them and set up ambushes ; raid their parking areas; attack their enforcers. So far all we seem to get is lightly armed static forces, and when these are pushed out the army says 'oh well, we lost that area, lets defend somewhere else'. Some agressive work could chop down the Taliban's triumphal march pretty effectively.

Posted by Red Howard at April 23, 2009 7:42 PM ET:

As said earlier, the problem is that the PakArmy is a conventional force primarily built to fight against India not against the Tban. Much the same problem the US military finds themselves in right now. Strap it on fellers, it's gonna be a hot summer in IBAD!!

Posted by Libertyship46 at April 23, 2009 7:52 PM ET:

I think we're reaching a tipping point here. The "international community," whatever that really is since all countries are only interested in their own narrow interests, isn't going to do a thing to help Pakistan. And why should they? It's easy for people to say, "Go in there and do something," but who are the poor saps who are going to have to be sent in there to do the dirty work, let alone the killing and the dying. The United States already has two wars going on right now and a major push in Pakistan is out of the question. If Obama even thought about going in there for a prolonged period of time, he would lose all support with his far-left base and probably with most of America. There just isn't any stomach here in the US to do much about this. Having said that, where are the Pakistani people in all of this? I don't see massive demonstrations in Islamabad against the Taliban. I don't see people lining up to fight the Taliban. I don't see the ISI coming out strongly against the Taliban. In fact, I'm not hearing much of anything in terms of protest from the bulk of the Pakistani people or press criticizing, let alone condeming, what the Taliban are doing. Doesn't anyone here remember the Shah and the fall of Iran? Folks, we're seeing an instant replay of a once capitalistic Muslim state turning into an absolute Muslim theocracy, only this time armed with nuclear weapons. Bin Laden was smart. He doesn't have to buy nuclear weapons on the black market when he can get access to them once the Taliban are in power. The "International Community" will stare in shock and disbelief, they will certainly protest at the United Nations, they will even (heavens) write nasty Op-Ed pieces in the New York Times. But they will still do nothing. Within a year this game will be over.

Posted by Spooky at April 23, 2009 8:17 PM ET:

Why should they? The Pakistani government has done nothing but treat them like serfs. Balochistan is in open revolt over an unrelated matter, and Sindh has always been at odds with the Punjabis. Pakistan is a Punjabi empire for all intents and purposes, and if it falls, no one but the Punjabis (who actually aren't being used as manual labor for the aristocrats) will care.

Posted by bard207 at April 23, 2009 9:03 PM ET:

As long as the Army is not launching major operations from their bases, why should the militants tackle them?

Take the soft spots and come back later with hopes that the morale of the troops has dropped and will offer only token resistance.

Posted by Some VB at April 23, 2009 9:39 PM ET:

Not only is the Taliban closer to Islamabad, they are at the verge of linking up with jihadists in Pakistan Kashmir.

This summer, India better start preparing for armies of Talibanies crossing over from Pakistan.

Posted by Spooky at April 23, 2009 11:11 PM ET:

They are launching operations though, just not successfully. Just today they hit Orakzai and killed 42 fighters. What I'm curious about is how the Taliban will handle Kohat (location of a small PAF base), because that will be a good barometer on how they take on the military's major infratructure in southern Hazara. If they can take Kohat, they can at least attempt Abbotabad. If they can't then Abbotabad is fine.

A second thing I wonder about is the Tarbela Dam. From the maps it seems the river splits to both Peshawar and south into Haripur and so I'm confused...if the Taliban blow the dam (and you know they will, or at least threaten to), where will the water flood to? Peshawar or Haripur?

Posted by tbrucia at April 23, 2009 11:32 PM ET:

The disintegration of the economy is sure to have some effect over the next year... but what effect? To what extent do enlisted ranks, junior officers, and senior officers have different sympathies? Are these sufficient to create either subversion (hidden breakdown in discipline) or actual breakdown in the effectiveness of the chain of command? Does the military have any understanding whatsoever that it needs to exercise control of the population (24-hour-a-day security, protection of government officials and headmen from assassination)? Why do small unit engagements so often result in the rout of Army units? Are any vigorous and highly focused efforts to upgrade training and equipment of the police 'in the works'? Or is this just hot air? THE PROBLEM is that these are all critical questions and we (at least in this forum) don't seem to have a firm grasp of the answers.... nor do we seem to know if anyone is grappling with these questions and trying to nail down the critical answers... This spells 'lack of will' if general!

Posted by KW64 at April 24, 2009 12:07 AM ET:

When will the popular press think that Pakistan's nuclear weapons falling into the hands of the Taliban/Al Queda alliance is as important a story as Perez Hilton dissing Ms. California? I would like to know because I don't believe our government will do anything until the media become concerned.

Posted by mthec at April 24, 2009 12:30 AM ET:

Ummm, what common citizen in their right mind would be out in the streets protesting if a Taliban steamroller just over the hills and down the valley? You average Pakistani will do what average citizens have always done: lie low, nod their heads, say yessir and hope they make it out the other side. Sadly, as far as the PA goes, it seems as if they're leaning that way also...

Posted by Spooky at April 24, 2009 1:10 AM ET:

Its partly that and partly worry over Balochistan which, funnily enough, they seem to think is the more dire situation. Reason being? Balochistan is in open revolt and this close to declaring unilateral independance. That to them is worse than the "mere" anarchy of the Taliban.

I swear one reads at the Pakistan Defense Forum would be a hoot if this stuff wasn't real life and with such high stakes.

Posted by tbrucia at April 24, 2009 8:12 AM ET:

Why would the Taliban/Al Queda alliance blow up the Tarbela Dam? If I were an insurgency commander I'd continue to target village officials, not be diverted by a 485-foot-high dirt dam....

Posted by C. Jordan at April 24, 2009 9:42 AM ET:

"You average Pakistani will do what average citizens have always done: lie low, nod their heads, say yessir and hope they make it out the other side."

The problem with this is, if you nod to the Taliban, you might get your head cut off. The Taliban is looking for nothing less then complete submission. This I believe will be their ultimate undoing.

Why are "the people" not doing more?

A parallel in history would be, why didn't the "Jews" do more? The power of fear is not to be underestimated.

Posted by Thomas F at April 24, 2009 10:42 AM ET:

Watch for the Indian army to move to consolidate Kashmir.....