Pakistani military, Taliban clash throughout the northwest


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 fighting in Pakistan's insurgency-plagued Northwest Frontier Province and the neighboring tribal areas has intensified over the past 24 hours. The Pakistani military has launched attacks against Taliban hideouts in the tribal agencies of South Waziristan, Mohmand, and Bajaur, while heavy fighting was reported in the settled districts of Swat, Bannu, and Hangu.

Pakistani military grinds it out in Swat, Dir, and Buner

The Pakistani Army continues its offensive against Mullah Fazlullah's Taliban fighters in Swat and the neighboring districts of Dir and Buner. The military claimed 39 Taliban fighters and 10 soldiers were killed during heavy fighting in Swat. Twenty-four additional soldiers were wounded. The latest casualties raise the tally to nearly 1,400 Taliban and more than 100 Pakistani soldiers killed since the operation was launched in late April. The military claims no civilians have been killed during the fighting.

Heavy fighting continues in the Kabal and Peochar regions, two areas considered to be Taliban strongholds. The military claimed to have cleared these two regions more than a week ago, and had hoped to surround and kill or capture the Swat Taliban leadership. So far, not one of the 21 senior Swat Taliban leaders who have had bounties placed on their heads has been killed or captured. The military has claimed to have killed off the Swat Taliban's second and third tier leadership.

In Dir, a tribal lashkar, or militia, claims to have surrounded more than 300 Taliban fighters. The lashkar was raised after the Taliban killed 49 civilians in a suicide attack in a remote mountainous region in the northern district. Reports said the lashkar numbers in the thousands, thus greatly outnumbering the Taliban. But the lashkar is reported to have killed only 17 Taliban fighters and has failed to overrun Taliban positions in the week since the lashkar was formed.

The military said it would support the lashkar but has only sent attack helicopters to target Taliban positions and has offered to send elements from the poorly armed Frontier Constabulary to assist. The attack helicopters wound up striking in the villages that formed the lashkars.

Fighting continues in Bannu, the gateway to Taliban country

The military said another 21 Taliban fighters were killed during clashes in the Jani Khel and Baka Khel tribal areas, which border North Waziristan. This would mean that more than 150 Taliban fighters have been killed since the operation in Bannu was launched on June 9.

If an operation were to be launched in North Waziristan, Jani Khel and Baka Khel would need to be secured, as these two areas sit astride the main road into the Taliban-controlled tribal agency. Al Qaeda is said to have held its executive shura in Jani Khel up until 2007, while senior al Qaeda and Taliban leaders were known to meet there. More than 600 Taliban fighters from North Waziristan are said to have poured into Jani Khel to battle the military.

Punitive strikes launched in Mohmand

The military has also launched air and artillery strikes against the Taliban in the Mohmand tribal agency. Dawn reported that a full-fledged operation is underway in Mohmand, while Daily Times said the strikes were in retaliation for an attack on a military convoy. Ten Taliban fighters and two soldiers were reported killed in the clashes.

After an operation in March of this year, the Pakistani military claimed Mohmand was cleared of the Taliban; the Taliban continue to mass for company-sized attacks on military camps in the region, however.

Taliban targeted in Bajaur

The military also launched attacks against the Taliban in the Mamond and Charmang regions in Bajaur. "Militants had used Mamond and Charmang for regrouping after having signed a peace deal with the government," Dawn reported.

The military and the Taliban signed a ceasefire in March after a months-long battle ground down both sides. Two of the conditions of the ceasefire required the Taliban to end patrolling in the region and to turn over Bajaur Taliban leader Faqir Mohammed. Instead, the Taliban have continued to bear arms in Bajaur, and Faqir Mohammed remains free. He appeared in Swat with senior Taliban leaders and government officials after the government agreed to a ceasefire and vowed to impose sharia, or Islamic law.

Taliban respond in Hangu

The Taliban struck back against the military just one day after punitive strikes targeted the Taliban in Arakzai and Hangu killed a pro-jihadi cleric and scores of civilians. On June 12, the Taliban killed one soldier and three policemen in a roadside bomb attack in Hangu.

The military does not appear to have sustained an operation in Hangu and Arakzai; there have been no reports of follow-up strikes or ground operations. The June 11 attacks in Arakzai and Hangu cause a major backlash by civilians, who forced police to return to their barracks after civilians rioted and protested in the streets.

More punitive strikes in South Waziristan

The military also appears to have launched airstrikes against Baitullah Mehsud's forces in South Waziristan. A report in Geo News indicates that strike aircraft and heavy artillery hit the village of Makeen, Baitullah's home town. No casualties have been reported.

North and South Waziristan are widely thought to be the next targets of the government's campaign against the Taliban. But with operations underway in Swat and Bannu, and the military unwilling to release additional troops from the Indian border, the military is tied up and additional forces may not be available for some time. The government also has to contend with more than two million internally displaced persons who fled the conflict in the Swat Valley and Bajaur. The tribes in South Waziristan are also said to be leaving the area.

Baitullah is said to be the primary target for an operation in Waziristan. The military and the government have not indicated that the notorious Haqqani Family, or Mullah Nazir, or Hafiz Gul Bahadar, would be targeted. The Haqqanis have been described as a "strategic asset" to the military, and Nazir and Bahadar are considered "pro-government" because they have not been inclined to strike at the state. The real intentions of Nazir and Bahadar were disclosed earlier this year when they joined forces with Baitullah, formed the Council of the United Mujahideen, and vowed to battle the Pakistani military.



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READER COMMENTS: "Pakistani military, Taliban clash throughout the northwest"

Posted by Max at June 13, 2009 12:09 PM ET:

>

The Pakistani military badly needs training from some real soldiers...

Posted by Cordell at June 13, 2009 12:22 PM ET:

"North and South Waziristan are widely thought to be the next targets of the government's campaign against the Taliban. But with operations underway in Swat and Bannu, and the military unwilling to release additional troops from the Indian border, the military is tied up and additional forces may not be available for some time."

If India's leaders wish to respond to the Mumbai and Kabul embassy attacks and roll back terrorism, they would unilaterally withdraw 100,000 troops from the border with Pakistan and send them to support NATO operations in Afghanistan -- with the expectation that Pakistan would respond in kind and transfer 100,000 PA troops to the NWFT provinces. This move would add 200,000 troops to the battle against their common enemy, the Taliban and others of their ilk. Moreover, Indians and Pakistanis might eventually view each other as allies rather than adversaries, paving the way for better relations long term. A significant motive for the Mumbai attack was to heighten tensions between the two countries and thereby ensure that Pakistani troops remained on the border. What better way to suppress such attacks than to have them backfire and cause 200,000 new troops to join the battle.

Posted by KaneKaizer at June 13, 2009 2:43 PM ET:

I know the numbers of Taliban reported killed are almost always inflated, but can we trust the Pakistanis as far as their own casualties?

Posted by Midnight at June 13, 2009 4:53 PM ET:

the numbers are always bad, one years the military and ISI had huge numbers of men defect.
The odds are bad and at this point I hestitate to say that it looks anything but vindictive. The courts have the right idea but will Pakistan survive. The money and damage and neddless to say, physical damage to the people who were happy with the Taliban idicates that this is far from over. They target the families right back.

Posted by MZBH at June 14, 2009 8:50 PM ET:

Max:
"The Pakistani military badly needs training from some real soldiers..."

And how many years has the world's strongest military been fighting in Afghanistan, only for its military leadership to say this week that insurgent attacks are at their highest level since the Taliban regime was removed?

The issue is not training, because if it is then the US and NATO militaries need a heck of a lot more of it going by their performance in 8 years.

Posted by MZBH at June 14, 2009 8:54 PM ET:

KaneKaizer:
"I know the numbers of Taliban reported killed are almost always inflated, but can we trust the Pakistanis as far as their own casualties?"

And how much 'independent verification' is available for casualties inflicted by the US and ANA?

Has every single body in those claimed casualties been accounted for? I say not, otherwise you would not have the locals crying foul after so many strikes, and the Taliban operating in Afghanistan claiming far fewer casualties than NATO/ANA claim, and the Taliban claiming to inflict far greater casualties than NATO/ANA accept.

'people in glass houses shouldn't cast stones'.

Posted by MZBH at June 14, 2009 9:06 PM ET:

Bill Roggio:
"The military claims no civilians have been killed during the fighting."

That is patently false Bill.

The DG ISPR has in fact personally apologized for civilian casualties, though he maintained that they were minimal, and that care was being taken to not attack populated areas with artillery and airstrikes.

QUOTE:
'Though the number of civilian casualties is minimal, we feel sorry for those killed by splinters and accidental fire,' military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said while briefing reporters about the progress of operation Rahe Rast. Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Samsam Bukhari was also present on the occasion.

He said only the confirmed hideouts of terrorists were being attacked and collateral damage was being avoided even at the cost of the pace of operation. He said in the case of air fire, precision targeting based on authentic intelligence report was advancing the military operation without adversely affecting the civilian population.
UNQUOTE:

http://swatvalley.org/index.php/news/military-apologizes-for-civilian-casualt?blog=1

Posted by Xavier at June 15, 2009 5:08 PM ET:

MZBH,

US has military few tens of thousands fighting in a foreign country whose people, from American soldiers' perspective, have foreign culture/religion.

Pakistan army has 600,000, but not all willing to deploy and they are fighting in their own country (which avoids most of the problems) and both sides (and civilians) of the war share same culture and religion.

Civilians in Pak war do not see PA as "occupying force" whereas US soldiers have to overcome such hostilities.

Your analysis of US army and comparison with Pakistan army would be relevant if US was incompetent in fighting its own people within its land. That is not the case.

So Pakistan army does need training.

Posted by Mr T at June 15, 2009 9:03 PM ET:

The June 11 attacks in Arakzai and Hangu cause a major backlash by civilians, who forced police to return to their barracks after civilians rioted and protested in the streets.

But they just can't seem to make the Taliban leave. Hmm... maybe.. THEY are Taliban. Civilian=Taliban, Taliban=Civilian, hence no civilians have died. If you are Taliban and dress like a civilian and hide among them, you are exposing them to danger. If they don't run away from you , they are aiding you in your subterfuge. The consequences of unintended consequences. Perhaps these civilians should drop a dime on some of these "Taliban" and help themselves instead of posing as perpetual victims.

Posted by dude40000 at June 16, 2009 8:36 AM ET:

Cordell
"If India's leaders wish to respond to the Mumbai and Kabul embassy attacks and roll back terrorism, they would unilaterally withdraw 100,000 troops from the border with Pakistan and send them to support NATO operations in Afghanistan -- with the expectation that Pakistan would respond in kind and transfer 100,000 PA troops to the NWFT provinces. This move would add 200,000 troops to the battle against their common enemy"

In fact to the contrary, India should just stack up on lots of pop corn and coke and just watch the movie closely going on in Pakistan and Afghanistan. And make sure noone infilitrates into India.

-dude40000

Posted by MZBH at June 16, 2009 9:25 AM ET:

Xavier:

Your argument makes no sense. It can be safely argued that the US, Canada, UK and Australia share the same high training standards and enjoy similar levels of technological superiority. Between those countries you have similar levels of deployed troops as did Pakistan until not so long ago (not counting the Frontier Corps and other assorted paramilitaries).

The performance of the above mentioned nations I already commented upon earlier - eight years and attacks now at their highest level. The issue here is not why you are in Afghanistan or why the PA is in FATA it is the fact that the US, Canada, UK and US have failed to defeat the insurgency through combat with the numbers they deployed.

Was there was a point in time where the USSR was where Canada is, at the height of the Cold War, with its missiles, tanks, infantry and Air craft all lined along the US-USSR (Canada) border, and there was an internal insurgency of the scale of the one Pakistan faces today?

Because that's the only situation in which you can complain about what Pakistan does with its '600,000 troops'. Otherwise its Pakistan's prerogative to cater to its national security concerns.

By the way, the US could have also avoided going into the distraction of the Iraq war and deployed those 100,000+ troops in Afghanistan. So once more, don't rant about what Pakistan does with its 600,000 troops when the US itself has not given Afghanistan and priority for the majority of the last 8 years.

Posted by Xavier at June 16, 2009 10:51 PM ET:

MZBH,

Unfortunately some of your sentences did make grammatical sense(and I did not understand them) and I will respond to those that do.

I agree with you that US got sidetracked by Iraq but that says nothing of troop training. There are less than 60K foreign troops in Afghanistan. Only 23K US troops among them.

Compare that to Pakistan Army which has 600K troops on duty in Pakistan. So 600K troops are either unwilling or incompetent to control Pakistan.

If killing of a former prime minister (Bhutto) by Taliban apart from killing 1500 troops (2007,2008) is not a national security concern I do not know what is.

You sound like Rumsfeld putting too much faith in technology in winning wars. Technology may help to some extent. It can help if you want to destroy a country completely and that's not the official US position.

Finally you ignored my most relevant comment (that's why the rest probably did not make sense to you). Fighting foreigners, who have different culture/religion/values, who see you as occupying force is a lot more difficult than fighting wayward fellow countrymen, who share culture/religion/values with you.

Now add to that the inferiority of US/NATO troops in terms of numbers and then you can see why Pak troops need training.

Again US/NATO troops can be considered to be short of training if they can not control their own people in their own country so that the comparison with Pak troops remains reasonable.

Posted by Xavier at June 17, 2009 10:45 AM ET:

OOPS

Prev post first sentence should read: Unfortunately some of your sentences did NOT make grammatical sense(and I did not understand them) and I will respond to those that do.

Posted by MZBH at June 17, 2009 11:15 AM ET:

Xavier:

The regular US army is larger than that of Pakistan's - why do you not have all of that deployed in Afghanistan?

And my point about similar levels/standards of training amongst NATO troops was to address your excuse of only focusing on US troop levels. The majority of the 60K troops in Afghanistan are arguably equally well trained as the US ones - don't belittle your British, Canadian, Australian and German allies, and their sacrifices, just to score a disingenuous point.

Those 60K troops are actually a larger deployment than the regular Pakistani troops committed to FATA (the bulk of the Pakistani deployment has till now been paramilitary). And NATO/US have shown pathetic results in terms of controlling the insurgency.

The 600K troops (of which 200,000 plus are infantry, and you have to account for rotation), are not deployed in FATA, or for that matter not deployed to control insurgencies elsewhere in Pakistan (Baluchistan operations are primarily conducted by the Frontier Corps Baluchistan).

Your argument about '600K troops' would only be valid if the majority of these troops were deployed for COIN purposes in FATA and elsewhere. And you probably realize you are being disingenuous since you take pains to point out that US troop levels are only 23,000 while taking the entire PA (regardless of how many are deployed in COIN) as a comparison.

Any comparison should be of the actual Army units deployed, not of total Army size (Pakistan) vs units deployed (US/NATO).

So 60K NATO troops vs approximately the same number PA troops.

So given the similarity in force levels (regular army), how can you make any claim regarding PA training vs US/NATO training when your own results are abysmal?

One point you brought up to justify the above was about being deployed in a foreign country vs your own country. I don't see that as a valid argument. If fighting an insurgency was purely about military training and tactics, then it would not matter whether you were fighting domestically or abroad, since the better trained and disciplined force would win in both cases - yet we see that both the US/NATO and Pakistan are struggling on that count (in Pakistan's case more so due to a lack of conviction in the cause, for various reasons, till recently).

And while I see your point about fighting people with different 'values, culture, religion', I would argue that in Pakistan the similarities have proven to be more of a burden than a help. If you have followed the insurgency in Pakistan then you should know that until a few months ago there was strong opposition to military operations, since the PA was seen as 'killing its own citizens and Muslim brothers' for the sake of American dollars and WoT. The soldiers of the PA come from that same society, and are not immune from the sentiments of the rest of society. I would argue that fighting such an unpopular war for a cause that no one in Pakistan really understood or agreed with, was far more a hurdle than what the US/NATO face in Afghanistan.

This sentiment was IMO reflected in the decision making of the Military top brass, that did not want the PA to become a reviled and hated institution amongst its own people. You must also bear in mind the battering the PA image took under Musharraf.

COIN is not solely about training and tactics, nor have I suggested that it is. In fact the stop and go attitude of the Military leadership, cognizant of the need to have 'hearts and minds' on board, reflects that. There has to be a strong civilian development, reconstruction and local institution building component to COIN, which in Pakistan falls on the shoulders of the civilian administration, which has been found woefully lacking.

My disagreement with you is over the whole 'PA needs training' canard, on which count I maintain that the PA needs little external assistance (its standards are already quite high and it has shown itself capable of adapting and evolving). More equipment - choppers, NVG's, etc. - is always welcome though.