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Pakistan, Taliban battle for control of Buner


Click map for full view. Taliban presence, by district and tribal agency, in the Northwest Frontier Province, Punjab, 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 24, 2009.

The Pakistani military and the Taliban battled for control of the district of Buner for the third day. Heavy fighting was reported in several regions of the district as the military retook control of the main town and sought to control the passes that link Buner to neighboring districts.

A total of 64 Taliban fighters have been reported killed during the three-day battle. Fourteen Taliban fighters were reported killed in the past 24 hours, military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said in a press briefing in Rawalpindi on Thursday.

Pakistani commandos from the Special Service Group conducted an air assault into the district headquarters of Daggar on Wednesday and secured the town and government buildings. The Frontier Corps has established a headquarters in Daggar, but it is unclear if this is a permanent post or a temporary command post.

The military targeted the mountain passes in the southern and western regions bordering the districts of Malakand, Mardan, and Swat. Taliban forces are said to be reinforcing positions in Swat along the border with Buner to maintain a line of communications and to defend against an anticipated offensive in the Taliban-controlled district.

Pakistani troops secured the Ambala heights, a strategic ridge that overlooks a portion of the district, and the Balandari Pass after heavy fighting with Taliban forces. The Taliban also attacked security forces at the Jawari Pass but were said to have been repelled. The military is heavily relying on artillery and helicopter strikes to hit Taliban forces that have taken the high ground in the mountains. Taliban forces have been reported to have been firing heavy weapons at helicopters as they attempt to strike in the mountains.

The Taliban, who are estimated to have between 500 and 1,000 fighters in Buner, are in control of the Pir Baba Ziarat region as well as at the Sultan Pass. The police station in Pir Baba was torched. The Taliban released 18 of the 70 security personnel captured during operations at the onset of the fighting.

The Buner operation is expected to last another week, Abbas said. The Taliban have slowed Pakistani forces by emplacing roadside bombs along the main roads and have destroyed several bridges. Several suicide car bomb attacks targeting Pakistani forces and checkpoints were repelled.

The Frontier Corps appears to be leading the operation and is being supported by detached units from the Army. A report indicated that more than 6,000 Pakistani regular Army troops, or about two brigades, have been redeployed from the Indian border to Pakistan's northwest. But there are no indications the Army has entered the fray at the battalion or brigade level.

At the end of December 2008, the Pakistani Army withdrew an estimated 30,000 troops from the Northwest Frontier Province and redeployed them to the eastern border with India after the deadly assault on Mumbai by the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba stoked tensions between the two rival nations.

The Taliban expansion eastward from the tribal areas has put Pakistani and Western leaders into a panic. The move into Buner has put the Taliban within 60 miles of Islamabad and close to several nuclear facilities and the vital Tarbela Dam. Last week, the local Islamabad government ordered troops to deploy in the Margala hills just north of the city to block a Taliban advance, while the Haripur government beefed up security at the Tarbela Dam.

Last week, an Islamist government official claimed the Taliban was advancing into Haripur and Mansehra. The Taliban move into Mansehra was confirmed as 100 fighters took control of a region along the border with Buner and established bases and a training camp. The Taliban are also expanding their influence into southern and eastern Punjab, Pakistan's most populous province.

Government seeks to keep the Malakand Accord alive at all costs

As the fighting rages in Buner, the Pakistani government has signaled it intends to keep the controversial Malakand Accord active. The peace agreement called for the end of military operations in Swat and the imposition of sharia, or Islamic law, in the districts of Malakand, Swat, Shangla, Buner, Dir, Chitral, and Kohistan, a region that encompasses nearly one-third of the Northwest Frontier Province.

The government continues to plead with Sufi Mohammed to continue peace talks and is promising to implement the Islamic courts in line with his wishes even if he fails to show up to the negotiations. Sufi is the father-in-law of the radical Swat Taliban leader Mullah Fazlullah and led his followers into Afghanistan to fight US forces. Sufi was missing for several days but has reappeared and has criticized the military operations in Buner and Dir.

The military and government are insisting on maintaining the Malakand Accord at all costs, despite repeated Taliban violations of the truce. On Thursday the Taliban kidnapped four policemen and murdered two civilians. The Taliban are again patrolling in Swat and are setting up checkpoints in the region.


For more information on Buner and operations in the region, see:

Taliban still in control in Dir
April 30, 2009
Taliban advance on Mansehra
April 29, 2009
Taliban capture 70 security personnel in Buner
April 29, 2009
Pakistan launches operation against the Taliban in Buner
April 28, 2009
Pakistan touts success of Dir operation
April 27, 2009
Rangers deployed to secure Islamabad outskirts
April 24, 2009
Taliban advance eastward, threaten Islamabad
April 23, 2009
Taliban flex muscles in Malakand Division
April 22, 2009
Taliban moving on Mardan
April 17, 2009
Taliban move on Buner despite promise to withdraw
April 10, 2009
Taliban advance on Buner
April 7, 2009



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READER COMMENTS: "Pakistan, Taliban battle for control of Buner"

Posted by BENGAL UNDER ATTACK at May 1, 2009 2:17 AM ET:

Bill,

In that FOX article Gen Patraues has said something very important and not been discussed here or anywhere -

"Even were Zardari's government to fall, it was still conceivable that Kayani's army could maintain control over the nuclear arsenal."

"the Pakistani army, led by Chief of Staff Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, is "superior" to the civilian government, led by President Ali Zardari, and could conceivably survive even if Zardari's government falls to the Taliban. "

How do you read these statements - I am actually curious. The first part of the second statement (about Army being superior is probably a truism), but the latter part is not very reassuring to India.

Posted by Spooky at May 1, 2009 4:10 AM ET:

Depends on what type of dictator Kiyani would be if he were to assume leadership. India was damned close to solving Kashmir when Musharraf was in power and only after Mumbai did this process halt.

On the other hand, if the leadership takes command after Kiyani retires next year, one would have to hope he isn't another Zia.

One thing though. If Kiyani has been holding back for fear of revolt, once he retires, that instability may be brought to the surface and cause problems.

Posted by Raj Kumar at May 1, 2009 4:54 AM ET:

What Gen Patraues and by extension USG is telling the Pakistan military that its OK to go ahead and depose the elected civilian leadership.

I have seen some dumb moves being made by the USG but this has to be the dumbest move of all!!! Putting the Pakistan army in charge will not solve anything.

IMO what we need to do is the following;

1. Secure the nukes and state it publicly
2. Isolate Pakistan by not allowing any inbound or outbound travel
3. Encourage the Taliban to impose their version of Sharia all over Pakistan. Like any revolution this will tie people down for a generation i.e. 25 years.

Posted by dude40000 at May 1, 2009 6:14 AM ET:

Bill,

I noticed that you have shown Mainwali and Haripur as Taliban influenced in the latest version of the map.

Does Mainwali lie in Punjab or is it still NWFP? I also wonder how you differentiate the situation on the ground between Taliban influenced district versus Contested control?

-dude40000

Posted by David M at May 1, 2009 10:07 AM ET:

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 05/01/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

Posted by Bill Roggio at May 1, 2009 10:49 AM ET:

Bengal,

I am looking into that, I am trying to find out if that is indeed what Gen Petraeus said, looking for additional context if any exists.

Posted by Bill Roggio at May 1, 2009 10:58 AM ET:

dude...


Here is a basic breakdown of how I rate an area. At some point I will have a page devoted to this map, explaining this and explaining the rating for each district. I also want to do this across the border into Afghanistan.

Red: these are areas the military and government have essentially given up (troops confined to base or control small pockets, no services), the Taliban has declared sharia and is running a parallel government, and/or the government has negotiated a peace accord with the Taliban. The last point is controversial, but the signal sent to the local admin is "the gov't/military has given up."

Orange: These are contested areas, the Taliban is strong but there are still military/government functions, police/military fighting Taliban. Fighting & suicide attacks are common. Areas under Taliban control.

Yellow: Taliban presence but government controlled. Basically low to mid-level insurgency. Police and FC still function as they should.

--------

Mainwali and Dera Ghazi Khan are in Punjab; I need to get that provincial boundary defined. [My map guy is offline for the next week or so]. I have other districts to add as YELLOW:

Rahim Yar Khan
Bahawalpur
Rajanpur
Muzaffargarh
Bakkar

I'm still compiling the Baluchistan data and don't want to publish at this time.

Posted by Spooky at May 1, 2009 12:29 PM ET:

With regards to Balochistan, are you also going to compile data for the seperate Baloch nationalist movement? It isn't related to the War on Terror, but considering they want to break up the federation and have the ability to tie up the Pakistan military's time and attention....

Posted by tbrucia at May 1, 2009 2:10 PM ET:

If David Kilcullen is correct, some metrics to map: (1) 24-hour a day control over the population, vs. daytime only vs. periodic 'sweeps'; (2) statistics regarding number of assassinations of officials, indicating insurgent ability to neutralize the administrative apparatus at the lowest level....