A Taliban suicide bomber killed 22 Pakistani border guards at the main crossing to Afghanistan in the first attack since Hakeemullah Mehsud took command of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. The new leader of the Pakistani Taliban made good on yesterday’s threat to retaliate for the death of the group’s former leader, Baitullah Mehsud, who was killed in a US airstrike on Aug. 5.
A teenaged suicide bomber directly targeted border security forces as they gathered for the Iftar meal at their barracks at the Torkham crossing in the Khyber tribal agency.
“The guards were about to break their fast when a teenaged boy carrying a bottle of Pepsi walked toward them and blew himself up,” a witness to the attack told Reuters.
While no group has claimed credit for the attack, Taliban forces under the command of Hakeemullah are the prime suspect. Between November 2008 and April 2009, Hakeemullah’s fighters destroyed more than 700 vehicles and shipping containers in Khyber and Peshawar, and forced the closure of the Khyber Pass six times.
Just yesterday Hakeemullah threatened to avenge the death of Baitullah, and specifically mentioned the United States as the primary target.
“We will take revenge and soon,” said Hakeemullah, who was chosen last weekend to lead the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. “We will give our reply to this drone attack to America.”
An attack at the Torkham crossing point would impact US and NATO operations in Afghanistan. NATO’s most vital resupply route for its forces in Afghanistan stretches from the Pakistani port city of Karachi to Peshawar, then on through the Khyber Pass to Kabul. More than 70 percent of NATO supplies and 40 percent of its fuel moves through Peshawar.
The US military has dismissed the attacks in Peshawar and Khyber as inconsequential, but the growing Taliban insurgency in the Northwest Frontier Province, coupled with the assault on the supply lines, has forced NATO to seek alternative supply routes into Afghanistan.
Hakeemullah is also credited with several major suicide attacks and complex assaults in Pakistan under the guise of the commander of the Fedayeen-e-Islam. Members of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Jaish-e-Mohammed, al Qaeda, and the Taliban in Pakistan’s tribal areas fill the ranks and leadership positions of the Fedayeen-e-Islam.
The Fedayeen-e-Islam took credit for the deadly September 2008 suicide attack on the Islamabad Marriott Hotel, the March 2009 storming of a police station in Lahore, and the June 2009 complex suicide attack on the Pearl Continental Hotel.