Pakistani military paints rosy picture of Swat fighting


Click map for full view. Taliban presence, by district and tribal agency, in the Swat region. 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: May 12, 2009.

The Pakistani Army recently stated it is in control of the town of Peochar, a Taliban stronghold and headquarters in the Swat Valley, and the military also claims to have "achieved considerable success" in Swat, Dir, Buner, and Shangla.

The military claimed it has "established [a] firm hold" on Peochar just one day after air-assaulting Army commandos into the region. Peochar hosts the headquarters for Swat Taliban leader Mullah Fazlullah, and contains training camps and fortified bunkers. Eleven Taliban fighters and four soldiers were killed during fighting in Swat over the past 24 hours, the military reported.

As journalists have been barred from the combat zone, the military's claims cannot be verified. But past attempts to take Peochar, along with the recent operation in Buner, make the military's claims suspect.

During three previous operations to oust the Taliban from Swat, the military failed to wrest control of Peochar; the current operation is named Rah-e-Haq 4.

And the military's air assault into the town of Daggar in Buner has achieved far less success than advertised. On April 29, Pakistani commandos from the Special Service Group conducted an air assault into Daggar, and the military promptly claimed to have secured the town and government buildings, while the Frontier Corps established a headquarters there. Yet 15 days later, the military is still shelling Taliban positions in the town, and the Taliban controls the main roads into Daggar, effectively surrounding the Pakistani troops in the town.

The Taliban also remain in firm control of Mingora, the main town in Swat, despite military claims to have surrounded that city. The same is true of Madain in Dir and a host of towns in Swat.

"All exit roads from Mingora have been closed. Our troops have surrounded the city to deny any exit to militants," a military official told The Nation. "We have also blocked the road to Dir as militants were using the route to flee to the tribal district of Bajaur,"

But the situation in Mingora is dire. The Taliban have been beheading and murdering locals and displaying their bodies as warnings not to cooperate with the military. The military admitted that the Taliban have held a large force under siege at the Mingora electrical grid station.

"These personnel are surrounded from all the directions," said Major General Athar Abbas, the top military spokesman. "In the encounter two security personnel embraced shahadat [were killed]." The grid station has been under siege for nine days now and government forces have been unable to relieve them. The fighting at the station has knocked out power in much of Swat.

Despite the fighting in Swat and neighboring Dir and Buner, the government is claiming the situation in Swat is returning to normal and the Taliban are on the run.

"Harvesting of crops has commenced in Buner and Dir areas of Malakand division," Interior Minister Rehman Malik told reporters. "The Swat offensive is continuing successfully."

The claims of success are curious in light of reports of the deployment of six brigades, or two divisions, of Pakistani troops. According to The Nation, "one purpose of the move could be to contain the militants militarily in such a manner to make them unable to move to other adjoining areas, and to preempt efforts of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan to reinforce militants in Swat and Malakand." This means the military did not launch its offensive in an organized matter; the offensive was launched with insufficient forces and no plan to block the Taliban movement from neighboring districts and tribal agencies.

The deployment of six additional brigades to the fight still puts the Pakistani military well below the number of brigades in the region prior to the military's pullback after the Mumbai attack and subsequent tensions with India, Ravi Rikhye, the editor of Orbat.com said.

Last December the Pakistani Army withdrew an estimated 30,000 troops from the Northwest Frontier Province and the tribal areas to counter a perceived threat from India after Lashkar-e-Taiba launched a deadly military assault on Mumbai.

"When Pakistan maintained the equivalent of 20 brigades in the NWFP [Northwest Frontier Province]- till the Bombay crisis 2008, the Pakistan Army was getting badly beaten in each and every campaign," Rikhye wrote. "Now the Pakistan Army appears to have ten brigades with perhaps six more on their way."

The deployment of the six additional brigades likely is not enough, Rikhye wrote, as the Taliban is better organized and in control of more territory. "But the battle area is much wider this time because Shangla, Mardan, Buner, and Swabi Districts are involved," Rikhye said. "Will sixteen brigades suffice where 20 did not, for a smaller area?"

Background on the Malakand Accord and fighting in Swat

The government signed the Malakand Accord with Taliban front man Sufi Mohammed, Fazlullah's father-in-law, on February 16 after two years of fighting that put the Taliban in control of the district. During those two years, the military was defeated three separate times while attempting to wrest control from the Taliban. Each defeat put the Taliban in greater control of the district.

The peace agreement called for the end of military operations in Swat, the end of Taliban operations, and the imposition of sharia, or Islamic law, in the districts of Malakand, Swat, Shangla, Buner, Dir, Chitral, and Kohistan. This region encompasses nearly one-third of the Northwest Frontier Province.

But the Taliban violated the agreement immediately after signing it, and proceeded to attack security forces and conduct armed patrols. The military remained silent while the government approved the Taliban's demand for sharia throughout Malakand.

The government ordered a military offensive in Dir and Buner after enormous pressure from the US and other Western governments to stem the Taliban tide pushing toward central Pakistan. The Taliban advanced from Swat into Buner in early April and took over the district in eight days. The move into Buner has put the Taliban within 60 miles of Islamabad and close to several nuclear facilities and the vital Tarbela Dam. The Taliban also have moved into Mansehra and established bases and a training camp in the region.

Pakistani government and military officials have dismissed the Taliban threat to Islamabad and the country's nuclear facilities, but at the end of April, 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.



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READER COMMENTS: "Pakistani military paints rosy picture of Swat fighting"

Posted by conycatcher at May 14, 2009 12:02 AM ET:

Good analysis. The media is really not reporting enough on the bottom line: there are too few troops to make this work. Will Pakistan continue to bring in more troops incrementally or is there going to be another peace deal? Time will tell.

Posted by conycatcher at May 14, 2009 12:05 AM ET:

Are there any estimates out there on how many troops Pakistan would need to reestablish security in Malakand Division?

Posted by Marlin at May 14, 2009 12:18 AM ET:

David Kilcullen is not impressed either.

Pakistan's fight against the Taliban has a limited chance of success because of the army's inexperience and its refusal to accept help from the west, according to a counter-insurgency expert.

As Pakistan continued its offensive against the Taliban in the Swat valley to the north-west of Islamabad, David Kilcullen, widely hailed as a key strategist behind the successful US surge in Iraq, warned that the outlook for the operation was "pretty bleak." Mr Kilcullen has been a leading adviser to General David Petraeus, the head of US Central Command, in his Iraq strategy.

The Obama administration has given strong backing to the Pakistani operation in Swat, knowing that success is key to the government's stability. But in an interview with the Financial Times, Mr Kilcullen said he doubted Pakistan could succeed - and that failure would endanger the international mission in Afghanistan because it could cut Nato supply routes.

Financial Times: Swat outlook 'pretty bleak' for Pakistan

Posted by LWJRegular at May 14, 2009 12:25 AM ET:

Pak's claim on Taliban casualties 'wildly exaggerated'

However, US military and intelligence officials have expressed scepticism about Pakistani claims of high Taliban casualties, according to 'The Long War Journal', a highly regarded website that tracks the activities of the Taliban, al-Qaeda and other terror groups.

http://www.indianexpress.com/news/paks-claim-on-taliban-casualties-wildly-exaggerated/458683/

Posted by BENGAL UNDER ATTACK at May 14, 2009 4:00 AM ET:

Bill,

Thanks for the reality check on the fight against Taliban. Everytime I read 100 Taliban has been killed as reported by Pak Army, I immediately switch over to LWJ for a dose of REALITY.

Thanks and keep up the excellent reporting.

Posted by Libertyship46 at May 14, 2009 7:08 AM ET:

Bill reported that,
"And the military's air assault into the town of Daggar in Buner has achieved far less success than advertised. On April 29, Pakistani commandos from the Special Service Group conducted an air assault into Daggar, and the military promptly claimed to have secured the town and government buildings, while the Frontier Corps established a headquarters there. Yet 15 days later, the military is still shelling Taliban positions in the town, and the Taliban controls the main roads into Daggar, effectively surrounding the Pakistani troops in the town."

The Pakistani Army can't be that inept, can they? Or is it they are facing much, much, stronger opposition than they ever anticipated? And if they are facing stronger opposition, do they have the resources and, more important, the will to defeat this stronger enemy? I'm not too optimistic and I think the Army's wild claims of success only reinforces my doubts that this will end well.

Posted by Andrew at May 14, 2009 7:44 AM ET:

I can't understand how come Pakistan military in its 60 years of existence could never go in that area, let alone fight, now confirms killing 800 marauding Talibans?
With USA pumping in Billions into Pakistan,yet again, how can the Pakistan's Politico-Military complex will not pull wool on us yet again? The SWAT assault is a good start but if we can't see the Taliban bodies I just can't trust them. These figures are fantastic. Ground realities are different. They are just enacting a drama to get US tax payers billions.
Obama on the other hand has broken yet another election promise - That of accountability of each and every dollar we will donate to Pakistan. This is not good enough.

Posted by Dean at May 14, 2009 9:00 AM ET:

Finally a map - a detailed one! Thank you.

Posted by Raj Kumar at May 14, 2009 9:37 AM ET:

Andrew,

This is something which I have been saying his I found this website and its previous version.

Both USG and also I may add HMG i.e. my government are being led up the garden path by the Pakistani's and have been for a very long time. I have written n number of times to my representatives about handling out my hard earned money to the ruling elite in Pakistan for such little return.

If you were to look at how much USG has pumped into Pakistan since 1950 then it would make your head spin. Now I realise that most of that gets re-cylced via military hardware purchases but even if say 10% doesn't then it adds upto significant amount of $$

We are simply not getting the returns that I would expect for our investment into Pakistan and we should put a stop to it right now. I believe it was Einstein who said that the definition of madness was to do the same thing time and time ago but expect a different output. Well our governments appear to have gone bonkers.

BTW Bill thanks for the detailed map!!!

Posted by Rene at May 14, 2009 11:35 AM ET:

"These personnel are surrounded from all the directions," said Major General Athar Abbas, the top military spokesman. "In the encounter two security personnel embraced shahadat [were killed]."
(actually said 18, not two.) Doesn't that mean 'martyrdom for Allah'? That is not a good sign, exposing the conflicting ideology in the Pakistan military. Must fight and die for Allah to get passage to paradise. Why does this General say that?

Posted by Rene at May 14, 2009 11:35 AM ET:

"These personnel are surrounded from all the directions," said Major General Athar Abbas, the top military spokesman. "In the encounter two security personnel embraced shahadat [were killed]."
(actually said 18, not two.) Doesn't that mean 'martyrdom for Allah'? That is not a good sign, exposing the conflicting ideology in the Pakistan military. Must fight and die for Allah to get passage to paradise. Why does this General say that?

Posted by Neo at May 14, 2009 1:38 PM ET:

The Mingora-Karakar road through Buner is pretty tough going through the mountains. I've read the same new reports as everyone else, and they are very sketchy, so it's a little tough to get a read on what is going on. I'm not sure that the town of Daggar is itself a problem. One of the reports from three days ago mentioned that there was fighting at the Ambela Pass, six miles south of Daggar. Once the Army controls the road through the mountains both south and north of Ambela they have a fairly clear shot into the central part of Buner, but controlling the mountain passes is difficult.

Approaching Swat valley from Buner using the Mingora-Karakar road is impractical. The difficult Karakar pass is at the northern end of Buner province. The Mingora-Karakar road enters the Swat valley at Barkot just west of Mingora.

To be honest, I think Buner Province a bit of a secondary priority. Securing the Mardan-Malakand-Chakdarra road is the main show right now. I've seen several mentions of new checkpoints going up along this road and skirmishes along the road. I'm not sure how far things are along with securing the area around Chakdarra either. There was fighting at Thana village just east of Chakdarra a couple days ago. Setting up checkpoints and control points along this road can take considerable effort, especially if they haven't done a lot of pre-planning. I doubt at this point the Pakistani army has completely solidified its hold on this road. It is essential that the army completely control the Malakand Pass and the area around Chakdarra before contemplating large scale operations either in Mingora or Lower Dir.

Also, the Pakistani army may well have moved units in along the approaches to Mingora but that is a far cry from saying they have much control over access to Mingora.

Posted by bilal at May 14, 2009 2:35 PM ET:

well i have read all the above comments.....and the most striking thing for me is that even the LONG WAR JOURNAL has said that the PAKISTAN ARMY has over estimated the taliban who have been killed ....but let mme tell u all one thing that PAKISTAN ARMY has told u an approx killings infact they have told u a bit less then the actuals......because there are many militants who have been killed by gun ship helicopters who were hiding in caves....so they are almost not included.

Posted by cjr at May 14, 2009 3:39 PM ET:

"Are there any estimates out there on how many troops Pakistan would need to reestablish security in Malakand Division?"

This is a very crude calculation. So please take with a lot of salt.

-NWFP is about 20m people
-Malakand divsion is about 1/3 = 6.7m people
-Countersugency doctrine says you need 20 WELL TRAINED troops for each 1000 population
-So, Pakistan needs 134,000 troops that have been trained in counterisugency to retake the Malakand divsion

This does not include the troops Pakistan needs to control the rest of the NWFP or FATA. In the long run, if Pakistan is serious about ousting the Taliban completely, they will need on the order of 300,000 well trained troops, ~15 divisions with support units

Posted by Spooky at May 14, 2009 11:04 PM ET:

And thats not counting how many troops they need to secure the other problem areas, such as Balochistan and Karachi.

Posted by Minnor at May 14, 2009 11:41 PM ET:

As per BBC map, not all of malakand is in taliban control. Taliban is in forests of Peochar. Also mountainous areas generally have less population density than plains.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/8046577.stm

Posted by Neo at May 15, 2009 2:45 AM ET:

News update at Dawn.

"Attack on army base in Peochar repulsed"
http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/news/pakistan/provinces/12-security-forces-claim-gains-in-dir-malakand--bi-10

It appears that the Pakistani army has established a firebase at Peochar (probably fairly small and supplied by helicopter). The local Taliban have apparently attempted and failed to overrun the base.

Later in the news release we get some clues about the main body of troops approaching Mingora. They have apparently left the Chakdarra-Thana area and have advanced along the main highway on the south side of the Swat river. It appears they have secured Barikot and advanced to Undigram. I interpret Undigram to be the Punjigram-Tondodag village, 9 km west of Mongora. They report "fierce clashes" in the village. The villages of Punjigram and Tondodag stand across the main road at a narrowing of the valley. I'm guessing a bit, but I think Punjigram (Undigram) is on the south bank of the river and Tondodag is next to it along the bluff.

The Swat valley widens quit a bit to the east of Undigram and infantry might have an easier time flanking any further positions along the main road, right up to the western outskirts of Mongora.

Barikot 34°40'38.90"N, 72°13'25.90"E
Undigram 34°43'57.82"N, 72°17'1.12"E

Posted by Neo at May 15, 2009 3:03 AM ET:

OK, No sooner do I post this than they change the headline and add new information.

"Thousands evacuate as curfew eased in Swat"

I'll make a guess that the Pakistani army has control of the Chakdarra-Mongora road and has arrived in force on the western outskirts of Mongora.

Posted by Neo at May 15, 2009 9:12 AM ET:

Here is a link to the second article.

"Thousands evacuate as curfew eased in Swat"
http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/news/pakistan/04-thousands-evacuate-as-curfew-eased-in-swat-qs-03

Additional details about the fight in Odigram village west of Mongora.

Posted by Neo at May 15, 2009 9:54 AM ET:

Extensive article covering relief efforts

"Hope among the ruins"
http://thenews.jang.com.pk/daily_detail.asp?id=177585

Posted by conycatcher at May 16, 2009 1:12 PM ET:

This article suggests that they may be abandoning guerilla tactics to fight an urban war against the Pakistani military. It also suggests that the Pakistani military needs at least 40000 to 50000 troops.
http://news.yahoo.com/s/mcclatchy/20090515/wl_mcclatchy/3234228