Click map for full view. Taliban presence, in the Islamabad 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: April 24, 2009.
As the fighting between the Pakistani military and the Taliban heats up in the war-torn district of Swat, the Taliban has moved a small force eastward into the district of Battagram.
More than 150 Taliban fighters advanced into the northern district on May 14, linked up with local supporters, and attacked a police checkpoint in Batta Mori. The Taliban force quickly captured the four policemen on duty, took control of the checkpoint, and seized the policemen’s rifles and ammunition.
The Taliban then threatened to torture and behead the policemen, according to a report in The News. The police were released after they promised to quit their jobs. The Taliban then torched the checkpoint.
The checkpoint was established to block a Taliban advance into the district after fighting broke out in the neighboring districts of Shangla and Buner, as well as in nearby Swat and Dir.
Unnamed Pakistani sources close to President Zardari claimed the Army was moving six brigades of troops from the border with India to help halt the Taliban movement from the combat zone. But President Zardari himself contradicted these reports and said there were no more troops available for the fighting in Swat. General Pervez Kiyani, the Chief of Army Staff, confirmed Zardari’s statement when he told parliament that no troops would be moved from the Indian border despite guarantees by the international community that India would not attack Pakistan.
US military and intelligence officials said the Taliban attack in Battagram highlights the disorganization and lack of planning behind the Swat operation.
“Clearly the military launched the Swat operation due to international pressure a need to show progress against the Taliban as President Zardari visited the US, and not out fear of the Taliban’s advance,” a US intelligence official told The Long War Journal.
“If they were serious, they would have deployed the forces to block any potential Taliban retreat or redeployment prior to kicking off the operation,” the official continued. “Instead they talked of moving forces after the fighting began, but then again we’re not even convinced they are moving significant forces.”
Other officials said the Battagram incident shows the military isn’t serious about the operation. “They put four police officers at an outpost when its well known the Taliban are attacking in large formations?,” a military officer who is tracking the situation in Pakistan said in disbelief. “Have they been paying attention to what has happened in their own country over the past few years?”
The Taliban have expanded eastward from Swat since the government agreed to a peace agreement with the Taliban that would impose an end to the fighting and impose sharia, or Islamic law, last February. Hundreds of Taliban fighters poured into Buner and Shangla and took over the districts, while advance parties have moved into Haripur and Mansehra, just on the outskirts of Islamabad. Unconfirmed reports indicate the Taliban have established a presence in Swabi as well.
Meanwhile, the Pakistani military said it is advancing toward the main town of Mingora in Swat, where the Taliban are said to have dug in for a siege. Between 100,000 and 200,000 civilians are said to be trapped in Mingora. Previously the military claimed it had surrounded Mingora.
The Pakistani military currently has an estimated 15,000 troops in Swat, while the Taliban forces are numbered at between 5,000 to 7,000 fighters. The military claims that more than 1,000 Taliban fighters have been killed since the fighting began in late April, but US officials are highly skeptical of these reports. Today, the military claimed 47 Taliban fighters were killed during fighting over the past 24 hours.