US military and intelligence officials are expressing skepticism about Pakistani claims of high Taliban casualties as the fighting spreads in the volatile northwest.
The Pakistani military’s daily reports of hundreds of Taliban fighters killed in the districts of Swat, Shangla, Dir, and Buner are “wildly exaggerated,” a senior US intelligence official who is closely watching the operations in Pakistan told The Long War Journal.
Rehman Malik, Pakistan’s Interior Minister, claimed that more than 700 Taliban fighters were killed in the last four days in Swat alone, Dawn reported. But a US intelligence official described Malik’s claim as “fantastic.”
“Malik’s numbers are even more fantastic than those given by the Pakistani military, which has claimed more than 300 Taliban fighters were killed since late last week,” a US intelligence official told The Long War Journal. “Clearly they [the Pakistani security establishment] want us to believe they’re having fantastic success against the Taliban.”
“The numbers issued by the military are wildly exaggerated,” a military intelligence official said, noting that the military is over-relying on air and artillery strikes instead of engaging the Taliban. “This is like a bad movie we’ve all seen before. The Pakistani military levels large areas, claims success, and thinks we’ll be conned into believing it if they pump up the Taliban body counts.”
The military said more than 15,000 troops, including units from the paramilitary Frontier Corps, are engaged against an estimated 5,000 to 7,000 Taliban fighters in Swat. Malik’s numbers would indicate that the Taliban have suffered 10 percent killed and likely another 20 to 30 percent wounded.
The status of the fight in Swat casts doubt on the Pakistani military’s claims on Taliban casualties. “The Taliban are still holding firm in Swat, the military has largely been kept at bay,” a US military officer said. “If they’ve suffered such high casualties, I wouldn’t expect this.”
Meanwhile, the military continues its heay-handed approach to counterinsurgency in the northwest. Multiple reports from the region indicate the Army is shelling villages indiscriminately without allowing civilians to flee the area and with little or no intelligence on the Taliban presence in the region.
As the fighting continues in Swat and neighboring Dir and Buner, the Taliban have expanded their operations into the tribal areas and in neighboring districts. Large Taliban forces, operating at the company and battalion level, have conducted attacks on military bases and convoys in Mohmand and South Waziristan, and have been interdicting military convoys in Mardan and Malakand.
“The military’s engagements in Mohmand and South Waziristan have been defensive in nature,” the military officer said. “They’re responding to Taliban attacks, not taking the fight to them.”
The Taliban attacks outside of the Swat theater continue. Today, a Taliban suicide bomber killed 13 Pakistanis after ramming a car packed with explosives into a Frontier Corps checkpoint in Darra Adam Khel.
Update on fighting in northwestern Pakistan:
The largest single incident of Taliban casualties was reported yesterday when the military claimed it killed between 140 and 150 Taliban fighters after pounding the Banai Baba region in Shangla, a district adjacent to Swat, and taking two mountains known as point 2245 and point 2266. A Taliban training camp and base in Banai Baba was hammered with air and artillery strikes, and most of the casualties were reported there.
The military stated that only one soldier was killed and that much of Shangla has been cleared of the Taliban. Previously, the military had asserted that only a small Taliban force of 30 to 40 fighters had entered Shangla.
The military claimed an estimated 110 Taliban fighters were killed in Swat over the past two days. Yet the Taliban remain in control of Mingora, where security forces holed up in a school remain under siege.
The Taliban also remain in control of the towns of Kabal, Matta, Kanju, Venaibaba, Namal, Qambar, Fizagath, Tiligram, and Chamtalai. The town of Peochar, Taliban headquarters in Swat, is also under Taliban control. All of these areas have been hit with artillery and air strikes over the past several days. The military appears to be hesitant to close with the Taliban on the ground, US military intelligence officials said.
The Pakistani military also claimed it is targeting the Taliban’s senior leadership in Swat, The News reported. But other than the brother of Ibn Amim, the leader of al Qaeda’s Shadow Army brigade operating in Swat and Buner, no senior commanders have been killed or captured.
More than 100 police, Frontier Corps, and regular Army troops are still in Taliban custody.
The military has also claimed that the Taliban have suffered heavy casualties in Dir. On May 8, the military claimed 73 Taliban fighters were killed during fighting in the district. The Taliban still remain in control of Chakdara, a strategic town that serves as the gateway to Dir and Swat.
The Taliban destroyed a headquarters of the Dir Levies, a paramilitary police force, in Chakdara late last week. The military claimed it is advancing in Dir, but the Taliban denied this and claimed to have inflicted heavy casualties on security forces.
The operation In Dir has been underway for more than two weeks now. The military initially announced that Dir was secured just one day after the operation began.
The military claimed it has advanced in Buner, where operations are in their third week. At the onset of the fight, security forces secured the main town of Daggar in an air assault by the commandos of the Special Service Group, but Daggar is still said to be under siege as the Taliban control the main roads leading to the town. The military is still conducting artillery strikes in Daggar, which is said to have been abandoned by Buneris.
The towns of Sultanwas and Pir Baba are still under Taliban control, and the military is trying to advance along the road to Pir Baba. The Special Service Group has been used to air assault the hills between Daggar and Pir Baba, while security forces claimed to have secured the ridges around Sultanwas. Heavy fighting has been reported as the military again has relied on artillery, air, and helicopter strikes to dislodge the Taliban.
The Taliban continue to interdict security forces in Malakand in an attempt to slow the deployment of forces in Dir and Swat. The Taliban attacked a series of Levies checkpoints in the town of Palai. One Levies officer was killed and three others were captured. The Taliban “retained control of Palai area for about 14 hours and blocked the roads linking the town to Mardan and Dargai,” Daily Times reported.
In Mohmand, a large Taliban force of an estimated 200 fighters (company strength) attacked military outposts in Ambar a few days ago. The military claimed 26 Taliban were killed and another 14 were wounded after troops repelled the assault. But the Taliban claimed 20 soldiers were killed and another six were taken prisoner.
Earlier this month, the Taliban overran a Frontier Corps outpost. On March 1, the military had claimed the Taliban were defeated in Mohmand.