The Pakistani military and the Taliban clashed in the Taliban-controlled tribal agencies of North and South Waziristan.
The Taliban claimed to have killed 45 Pakistani soldiers after assaulting two security checkpoints in Ramzak, a military garrison town on the border of South Waziristan. A battalion of more than 600 Taliban fighters attacked the two outposts in Ramzak, according to Dawn. Azam Tariq, the new spokesman for the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, confirmed the attack.
The Pakistani military claimed eight Taliban fighters were killed during the assault but did not report its own casualties.
In South Waziristan, Pakistani Army helicopter gunships struck Taliban camps in the strongholds of Makeen and Spina Tigha. The military said 26 Taliban fighters were killed in the attack.
The clashes in North and South Waziristan take place more than a week after the Pakistani government gave the military the approval to launch an operation in Waziristan. The military indicated it was “looking for a suitable time to launch the operation,” according to Dawn. There are reports the Pakistani government has begun forming lashkars, or tribal militias, to support the operation. But the military has discarded so-called “pro-government” Taliban leaders like Haji Turkistan Bhittani, who opposes the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan.
The last operations in South Waziristan was launched in mid-June and fizzled out after the US airstrike killed Baitullah Mehsud, the former leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. The military initially claimed it was moving into South Waziristan in force, but after meeting stiff resistance, the plan was changed to blockade the region and hit the Taliban with air and artillery strikes.
The military has said it has no intentions of conducting operations in North Waziristan, and also said an operation in South Waziristan likely wouldn’t begin until next spring.
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, however, and said it killed Qari Hussain. But 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 Waliur Rehman Mehsud, the new leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, 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.
Map of the Ramzak/Makeen region: