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Taliban moving on Mardan


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.

The Taliban continue their advance in northwestern Pakistan. The district of Mardan in the Northwest Frontier Province may be the next region to fall to the Taliban as the terror group has stepped up its attacks in the area.

The Taliban murdered two women in Mardan yesterday, signaling the district is marked for takeover. A female aid worker for the non-governmental organization National Rural Support Program was killed in a bombing at her office. A local Taliban commander named Habibur Rehman claimed credit for the attack. "He accused NGOs of propagating obscenity and vulgarity and threatened further attacks," Dawn reported. The Taliban also gunned down a female councilor for a local union.

The murders were the latest in a series of attacks in Mardan that signal the Taliban is setting its sights on the district.

Since early March, in Mardan the Taliban have bombed two girls' schools, dozens of CD and video shops, and an electrical tower. The Taliban have forced the closure of more than a hundred CD shops after issuing threatening night letters and ordered barbers to stop shaving men's beards. The Taliban conducts attacks like these to intimidate the local population while setting the precedent for the establishment and enforcement of its brutal version of sharia, or Islamic law.

Attacks such as these preceded the Taliban takeover of Tank, Bannu, Hangu, Lakki Marwat, Swat, Shangla, Arakzai, and Bajaur.

Mardan was also one of the districts chosen by the Swat Taliban to parade through after its near-effortless takeover of Buner, a district just 60 miles from the capital of Islamabad. Earlier this week, a Taliban convoy of 10 trucks filled with fighters brandishing heavy weapons drove from Buner, through the district center in Swabi, and through Mardan before passing into Malakand, Dawn reported.

The Taliban convoy was untouched by Pakistani security forces. "They drove through a district HQ of a district they have not yet occupied ... on the federally policed motorway; through an army cantonment - as a matter of fact right past the Punjab Regimental Centre's shopping plaza containing the usual bakery and pastry-shop run by serving soldiers - and thence through the rest of the crowded city of Mardan which is also the home of the chief minister of the province," Dawn reported.

Taliban nearing encirclement of Peshawar

The takeover of Mardan would put the Taliban one step closer to completing an encirclement of Peshawar, the provincial capital of the Northwest Frontier Province.

The Taliban have taken control of vast swaths of tribal agencies Arakzai, Khyber, and Mohmand, and maintain a strong presence in Charsadda and neighboring Mardan.

Charsadda is still contested, but the Taliban have launched some of the largest suicide strikes in this district in an effort to break the security forces. In the latest suicide attack on April 15, nine policemen were among 18 Pakistanis killed in a suicide attack on a police checkpoint.

The district of Nowshera to the east of Peshawar has been spared some of the heavier violence that has plagued the Northwest Frontier Province, but the Taliban are showing signs of advancing there as well. Over the past month, the Taliban assaulted two police checkpoints and bombed 20 CD shops.

Peshawar itself is under Taliban siege. The city has been described as a fortress as the Taliban maraud through the countryside. The Taliban have conducted dozens of assaults on trucking terminals that handle supplies for NATO forces in Afghanistan. Since late 2008, the Taliban have destroyed more than 500 trucks and containers destined for Kabul in an effort to strangle NATO's primary supply route.

The military has launched multiple offensives to clear the Taliban from Peshawar, Khyber, Arakazai, Mohmand, and Charsadda. The Taliban typically lay low during the operations and return after the government calls them off and withdraws troops.

The Taliban are nearing their takeover of the Northwest Frontier Province. The Pakistani government recently ceded the northern third of the province to the Taliban after agreeing to implement sharia in a large region known as the Malakand Division. The seven western tribal agencies and most of the bordering districts are under Taliban control or under strong Taliban influence.



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READER COMMENTS: "Taliban moving on Mardan"

Posted by Vishal Bhatia at April 17, 2009 3:08 AM ET:

Bill Roggio:

Sir, what do you think they (the Taliban) are planning, as in on a grand scale? Or are they planning anything at all? Do they plan to take Peshawar, or have they set sights on Islamabad? Or is it that they intend to keep taking district after district, and limit the Pakistani government to urban centers? And Sir, the big question, in my mind is  are they heading east (to my country, India) or do they want to venture south (Pakistani Punjab)?

I ask this cause their actions seem quite disjoint, but I subscribe to the view that they are being thoughtful and calculating here. I may be wrong, and if I am, please correct me.


Regards
Vishal Bhatia
Mumbai

Posted by Ayamo at April 17, 2009 3:10 AM ET:

Why is it that the are able to conquer new districts so quickly?
Where is the Pakistani Army?

Buner fell in a matter of days ...

Posted by Minnor at April 17, 2009 4:41 AM ET:

Taliban is ruling in Orakzai, and imposing protection tax, to the south of Peshawar. Where's army?

Posted by bard207 at April 17, 2009 4:49 AM ET:

Ayamo

Why is it that the are able to conquer new districts so quickly?

The local police and similar are outgunned by the TTP - Taliban. Also, with the government - Army failing to support the various police agencies, there is no desire to be a brave warrior helping to defend Pakistan.


Where is the Pakistani Army?

Still waiting on the Eastern Border for an invasion by India. It doesn't matter that Pakistan has had more citizens killed and more territory lost to the Taliban than to India in the past decade, the greatest threat is still seen to be India.

Posted by Spooky at April 17, 2009 8:01 AM ET:

Perhaps they think because they were able to be partners before, that they can deal with Taliban takeover and retake NWFP at a later date. Maybe after they win the Kashmir conflict or something.

Just like 1971, the Generals are delusional.

Posted by David M at April 17, 2009 9:02 AM ET:

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 04/17/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

Posted by m3fd2002 at April 17, 2009 10:26 AM ET:

This is the same order of battle the Afghanistan Taliban used in their conquest of Afghanistan. This situation has different metrics. Historically, the pashtun's have tried to expand their area of control from the highland into the valleys, until the Punjabis and Sindhis push back. Typically quite energetically. We will see.

Posted by Spooky at April 17, 2009 10:51 AM ET:

In this case however, they have the help of the Punjabis, especially in the southern and western regions of Punjab province. Thankfully, inspite of the Taliban infiltration of Karachi, Sindhis have been relatively good about keeping the rot to a minimum, so maybe they'll give the edge needed.

That or simply leave Pakistan.

Posted by Midnight at April 17, 2009 4:58 PM ET:

Really I dont see the rot, unless you are referring to the diplomatic interferance from the outside. Diplomacy they say is the art of learning to say the nastiest things in the nicest of ways. Could it be that a Nuclear investment on behalf of the States at this point in time would be suicidal?

In the coming days you will probably begin to see the incredible precision wiath which they have operated. It hasn't been some tacky beat around the bush hide behind a website cheat on your wife the day before your wedding sort of fight. Perhaps that is what we expected.

Posted by Spooky at April 17, 2009 8:47 PM ET:

By rot, I mean Taliban infiltration. Karachi has a little bit, but otherwise Sindh is relatively free of the extremist Islamist militants (though they have other sorts of militants to deal with, but thats besides the point).

Posted by butair at April 22, 2009 11:30 AM ET:

It is interesting to see how the Taliban are surging in Pakistan's north. They are finding new areas of expansion. Pakistani's high focus is on India. India is the big brother in the region. Pakistan can claim to be a nuclear power but at the end of the day it can't stand a full fledge fight with India. The emerging situation in Pakistan needs to be combated now. India has to relax pressure on Pakistan and help Pakistan. There are huge emotional and psychological pressures on Pakistan by India dating to partition. Kashmir is a big sticking point. If Pakistan is unable to stop the expansion of Taliban then India will be affected. It is only a matter of time. India, like Pakistan, is incapable of stopping the Taliban from foraying into it's territory. Many in Pakistan feel threatened by Taliban... a force by people foreign to Pakistan but it is taking on a local face. Standing up to an "enemy" that is of the same faith is a tough pill to follow and when that force is trying to implement a law of the faith people belong to. Sympathies are there but resistance is there, too, only becuase of their terroristic acts against civilians. If they tone down their brute approach they will begin to win over more people and quicker. As long as resistance to them is coming from people who are of another country or religion, forces like these will ALWAYS find sympathizers. This fight needs to be fought from within and those who are opposed to forces like Taliban need to be found and propped up with enough backing. Are there Muslims who think that people like Taliban and Al-Qaida are terroristic even from Islamic point of view? Absolutely. The funny part is that these people are not part of the equation of fighting this "war".