The Pakistani military battled the so-called “good Taliban” forces under the command of Hafiz Gul Bahadar after a military convoy was ambushed in North Waziristan.
Bahadar’s fighters ambushed the convoy as it traveled to the town of Mir Ali. The Taliban and the military differ on the battle’s outcome. The military claimed only three soldiers were wounded in the initial attack, while the Taliban said 32 Pakistani troops were killed and 14 vehicles were seized.
The Pakistani military counterattacked against Taliban positions with attack helicopters and artillery fire, sparking a five-hour battle, Dawn reported. Civilians said the military fired into residential areas.
In a separate attack, the Taliban killed one Frontier Corps paramilitary trooper and wounded three more in an IED strike near the town of Miramshah.
And in an IED attack near Mir Ali yesterday, the Taliban killed two soldiers and critically wounded four more.
Bahadar has stepped up attacks against security forces in North Waziristan since he terminated the peace agreement with the government at the end of June. In canceling the peace deal, he demanded an end to military operations in Waziristan and the withdrawal of the Army from the region. He also called for the end of US Predator strikes against Taliban and al Qaeda camps and safe houses in the region.
The largest attack took place on June 28, when the Taliban killed 17 soldiers during an ambush on a military convoy near Wachi Baba. Then on July 29, two paramilitary troops were killed in a suicide attack in Miramshah in North Waziristan. And on Aug. 4, the Taliban killed four security personnel during an attack on the military headquarters in Miramshah. Yet despite these Taliban attacks on its forces, the Pakistani military insists the ceasefire is still in effect.
The military considers Bahadar and the Haqqani family, which is also based in North Waziristan, as well as Mullah Nazir in South Waziristan to be “good Taliban.” These Taliban leaders are seen as strategic assets to hedge bets against a US withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Pakistanis have long considered Bahadar, Nazir, and the Haqqanis “good” or “pro-government” Taliban because they did not advocate fighting the Pakistani military but rather focused their efforts against the Coalition in Afghanistan.
But Bahadar, Nazir, and the Haqqanis openly support al Qaeda and host training camps for the terror groups as well as for the numerous Pakistani jihadi groups. In addition, Bahadar, Nazir, and the Haqqanis provide fighters to serve in the Lashkar al Zil, al Qaeda’s paramilitary Shadow Army that operates along the Afghan and Pakistani border areas.
The military has openly said it wants to keep these commanders on the sidelines while it takes out Baitullah Mehsud, the overall leader of the Pakistani Taliban, who is based in South Waziristan. Over the past few days, the government has claimed Baitullah was killed during a US airstrike on Aug. 5, but Baitullah’s commanders insist he is alive.
Background on recent fighting in North and South Waziristan
The Pakistani military has avoided directly confronting the Taliban in North and South Waziristan after suffering a string of humiliating defeats there between 2004 and 2008. The most recent operations in Waziristan resulted in peace agreements that have ceded control of the region to the Taliban.
The last time the Pakistani military took on the Taliban in North Waziristan was in October 2007. The Pakistani military and the Taliban fought pitched battles after the military launched artillery barrages and helicopter and attack aircraft assaults against Taliban-controlled villages in North Waziristan.
The Taliban responded by setting up complex ambushes, including surface-to-air missile traps, a senior US military intelligence official told The Long War Journal. Several Pakistani Army helicopters were said to have been shot down during the fighting. The Pakistani military claimed that 120 Taliban and 45 soldiers were killed in the fighting, but independent reports put the number of soldiers killed much higher.
At the end of October 2007, the government pushed for a peace deal, and the fighting waned. The Taliban, led by the Haqqani Network and Hafiz Gul Bahadar, remained entrenched in the region. In February 2008, an official peace agreement was signed.
The last major operation against the Taliban in South Waziristan took place in late January 2008. The military launched an offensive with the declared aim of dislodging Baitullah Mehsud’s forces from entrenched positions. Prior to the military’s offensive, the Taliban overran two military forts and conducted numerous attacks against Pakistani forces. More than a dozen of Pakistan’s elite counterterrorism commandos were killed in a single engagement.
The military claimed to have ejected the Taliban from strongholds in Kotkai and Jandola, and said it killed Qari Hussain. Hussain later mocked the government during a press conference in May 2008.
Just 11 days after the fighting in South Waziristan had begun, the military sued for peace. The Taliban retook control of Jandola four months later, after murdering dozens from a rival tribe while the military looked on. The military has since abandoned several forts in South Waziristan and has kept activity there to a minimum.
Taliban forces belonging to Baitullah, Mullah Nazir, Hafiz Gul Bahadar, and the Haqqanis, led by Jalaluddin’s son Sirajuddin, have only grown stronger since defeating the Pakistani military during engagements in 2007 and 2008. Tens of thousands of fighters are under the collective command of these leaders.