Pakistan strikes Taliban camps in Khyber

The Pakistani military killed 20 Taliban fighters while targeting Taliban training camps in the Khyber tribal agency.

Pakistani Army helicopters struck four Taliban camps in the Tirah Valley near the Afghan border. One of the camps was used to indoctrinate and train suicide bombers and Taliban fighters, a spokesman for the Frontier Corps told AFP.

Taliban suicide bombers attacked across the border from Khyber in the city of Jalalabad in Nangarhar province in Afghanistan on July 21. Police and US forces killed two suicide bombers as they attempted to attack a forward operating base at the airport outside the city. Another bomber was captured, the US military said. One policeman was killed while repelling the Taliban strike.

In November 2008, the US military attacked Taliban forces in the Tirah Valley after they retreated across the border from Nangahar in Afghanistan. US strike aircraft and artillery killed seven Taliban fighters during the hot pursuit.

Mangal Bagh. Click to view images of the senior leaders of the extremist groups operating in the Khyber agency.

The Tirah Valley is home to the Lashkar-i-Islam, an extremist group run by Mangal Bagh. The valley is known to shelter Taliban forces attacking across the border in Afghanistan.

The Lashkar-i-Islam has been battling for control of the valley with the rival Ansarul Islam. Bagh claims he does not support Baitullah Mehsud’s Taliban. But he has carved out a Taliban-like state in his territory in Khyber, and sends forces across the border to attack US and Afghan troops in Nangarhar province.

The Lashkar-i-Islam and other groups such as Hakeemullah Mehsud’s branch of the Pakistani Taliban have gained power in Khyber despite a military operation that was launched last summer that was supposedly designed to relieve Taliban pressure on neighboring Peshawar.

The operation in Khyber ended just 11 days after it began. The government and military were clear the operation was limited in scope and a “show of force.”

Haji Namdar, the leader of the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, a group allied with the Lashkar-i-Islam, was seen riding along with the Frontier Corps. “He was taken along to ensure that encounters with militants were kept to a minimum,” the Asia Times reported in July 2009.

The military later released all of the more than 90 prisoners taken during the Khyber operation after signing a peace agreement with Bagh. Namdar was killed while attending mosque just one month after the end of the Khyber operation. Hakeemullah took credit for killing Namdar.

Meanwhile, Hakeemullah Mehsud’s followers stepped up attacks against NATO convoys transporting supplies through the Khyber Pass en route to Kabul. Hakeemullah’s forces destroyed more than 700 vehicles and shipping containers and forced the closure of the Khyber pass six times between November 2008 and April 2009.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of The Long War Journal.

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