Pakistani Taliban regroup in Malakand
The Taliban have regrouped in the district of Malakand in Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province as an operation to drive out the extremist from Swat is winding down.
Taliban fighters are reported to have taken control of the Palai region in Malakand, a district that borders Swat. Over the past three days, the Taliban beheaded two policemen and kidnapped a local politician. The Taliban are also attempting to recruit in the region.
The policemen were captured by the Taliban as they visited the region, and were promptly beheaded. The politician was kidnapped after he refused to purchase weapons for the Taliban and provide young men to train and fight with them.
"The Taliban are strengthening their position in some parts of Malakand," a resident told Daily Times. Policemen and government officials no longer enter the Taliban-controlled regions, fearing being kidnapped and murdered.
The Taliban have been active in the Malakand district since late April, when the military began an operation to clear the Taliban from Swat, Dir, and Buner, after the Taliban violated a peace agreement and moved forces into Buner.
Taliban forces attacked military convoys and police checkpoints in Malakand. In one of the most brazen attacks, the Taliban ambushed a convoy transporting detained shura members of the pro-Taliban Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammed [TNSM, or the Movement for the Enforcement of Mohammed's Law]. The TNSM's deputy emir, the group's spokesman, and a soldier were killed during the ambush.
Taliban Fighters began sheltering in Malakand and other districts to avoid the military advance in Swat, Dir, and Buner (Malakand borders all three districts).
Since April, the Taliban have established bases in the districts of Shangla, Mansehra, Haripur, Battagram, Mardan, and Swabi. Taliban units ranging from 50 to 150 fighters fanned out through the districts with no resistance from the military, which claimed it established blocking positions to prevent the Taliban from retreating from the battlefield and bleeding into bordering districts.
The reorganization of the Taliban in the various districts threatens to set back the modest gains made in Swat, Dir, and Buner. The Taliban have claimed their forces have gone to ground and will return to the areas they've lost during the winter months, when military movement is restricted due to weather conditions.
The Taliban leadership remains intact to lead a new offensive in Swat. The military and police have killed only one of the 21 most-wanted Taliban leaders in Swat.
The Taliban continue to make their presence known in the region. On Saturday, a suicide bomber killed security personnel and two civilians in a suicide attack on a police checkpoint in Swat. The suicide attack was the first in Swat since July.