Mangal Bagh. Click to view images of the senior leaders of the extremist groups operating in the Khyber agency.
The Pakistani military has launched an operation against extremists operating in the Khyber tribal agency. The operation was launched after a suicide bomber killed 22 border guards at the Torkham crossing last week.
More than 40 extremists were killed, including two commanders, and another 43 were captured, according to Tariq Hayat, the Political Agent for Khyber. Three “militant bases” were destroyed, according to a press release by the paramilitary Frontier Corps, while an indefinite curfew has been imposed in the region.
The military is relying heavily on artillery and Cobra helicopter gunships instead of engaging the extremists on the ground, according to reports received by The Long War Journal. Only three soldiers have been wounded during the operation, claims the military.
The military would not name the group or groups that are the target of the operation. According to Geo News the operation “is being carried out against miscreants not against any specific person or a group.”
The operation was launched in the Bara region in Khyber, the stronghold of the Lashkar-e-Islam, a pro-Taliban group led by Mangal Bagh Afridi. He is reported to be listed by the interior ministry as one of the top ten most-wanted extremist leaders. During the operation, the father of a Lashkar-e-Islam commander was detained, and a spokesman for the group has called for the military to end the offensive.
Two other extremist groups are known to operate in the region. The Ansar-ul-Islam, a rival extremist group, operates in Khyber, as does the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. Hakeemullah Mehsud, the new leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, commanded forces in Khyber and was behind many of the attacks against NATO supply convoys moving through the region.
Operations in Khyber since 2008
The current offensive in Khyber is the latest in a series of clearing operations in the strategic tribal agency since June 2008.
The June 2008 operation purportedly targeted the Lashkar-e-Islam, the Ansar-ul-Islam, and a small group called the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. These three groups were banned by the government, and the military began rounding up members and destroying hideouts.
But Haji Namdar, the leader of the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice who allied with Mangal Bagh’s Lashkar-e-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. Government officials stated at the onset of the operation that the offensive would be limited in scope and was a “show of force.”
Ten days after the operation began, the government signed a peace agreement with the Lashkar-e-Islam. All prisoners taken captive during the operation were released.
The military also launched operations in Khyber in December 2008 and January 2009 in an attempt to clear the Taliban and allied extremists groups from the region, relieve pressure on the provincial capital of Peshawar, and keep the Khyber Pass open to traffic moving to and from Afghanistan. In July, Pakistani aircraft conducted strikes against Taliban camps in Khyber’s Tirah Valley.
Despite these operations, the Taliban succeeded in forcing the closure the Khyber Pass seven times since September 2007. More 700 NATO supply and fuel trucks, as well as vehicles and equipment, have been destroyed in a series of attacks in Khyber and neighboring Peshawar. The Khyber Pass is NATO’s main conduit for supplies into Afghanistan; more than 70 percent of the supplies move through this strategic crossing point.