Pakistan captures two Taliban strongholds in South Waziristan


Pak-S-Wazir-op-APP.jpg

Pakistani soldiers in an undisclosed location in South Waziristan. APP photo.

The Pakistani Army has captured two more Taliban strongholds in South Waziristan and is close to taking another, while a Taliban spokesman claimed the group has conducted tactical withdrawals and is prepared to fight "a long war" in the tribal agency.

The military has killed 33 Taliban fighters and lost only one soldier during two days of fighting, according to the Inter Service Public Relations, or ISPR, the public affairs office of the Pakistani military.

Pakistani troops are now in full control of Kanigoram, a town that served as a stronghold for Uzbek and other central Asian fighters. "Hundred percent of the town has been cleared and secured," the ISPR reported.

The Army has also secured the village of China, which is just outside the town of Makeen, one of the Taliban's largest bases in South Waziristan. The military disabled 20 roadside bombs in China.

Pakistani soldiers have also begun to clear the town of Sararogha, where South Waziristan Taliban leader Waliur Rehman Mehsud is said to be directing operations. Two days ago, the military said Sararohga and Makeen were surrounded.

The military has claimed that more than 330 Taliban fighters and 35 soldiers have been killed since the operation began on Oct. 17. But no senior Taliban commanders have been killed or captured during the current offensive. And in stark contrast to the military's reports, the Taliban claim that only 11 of their fighters have been killed so far in the operation.

The Taliban are refuting the military's claims of success and said Taliban forces "are drawing government soldiers into a trap," according to a report in the Associated Press.

"We are prepared for a long war," Taliban spokesman Azam Tariq told the Associated Press. "The areas we are withdrawing from, and the ones the army is claiming to have won, are being vacated by us as part of a strategy. The strategy is to let the army get in a trap, and then fight a long war."

The real story in South Waziristan is difficult to discern, as the Pakistani Army has closed off communications from the region and has denied journalists the ability to report from the battle zone. Journalists are taken on closely orchestrated battlefield tours and are given a glimpse of what the Army wants them to see.

The military is evidently taking and holding ground in South Waziristan, but the Taliban clearly are not putting up a serious fight against the Army. During past operations, the Taliban have put up stiff resistance to military incursions.

At the outset of the South Waziristan operation, US intelligence officials told The Long War Journal that all indications were that the main body of the Taliban force and its commanders have left the region while a rearguard force was left behind to harass the Army [see LWJ report, "Pakistan launches South Waziristan operation"].

"The Taliban appear to want to deny the military a decisive victory so they have pulled up some units and key leaders," a US intelligence official said on Oct. 17. "A substantial rearguard unit will be left to bleed the Army."



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READER COMMENTS: "Pakistan captures two Taliban strongholds in South Waziristan"

Posted by JT at November 3, 2009 1:03 PM ET:

This report says that the Taliban is not putting up much of a fight. Earlier reports had the Taliban putting up fierce resistance in some of these strongholds. Any ideas on which version is closer to what is happening?

Posted by Bill Roggio at November 3, 2009 1:15 PM ET:

JT,

It seems Kotkai was the only place the Taliban choose to make a stand. After Kotkai, the Taliban seemed to just melt away, with the exception of Kanigoram, where there seems to have been some fighting. One possible explanation is that was the Taliban plan, another is the Taliban were crushed/demoralized there and made the retreat. There are other possibilities. Given the lockdown on info from the region, it really is difficult to know exactly what is happening, and why.

Posted by Cordell at November 3, 2009 2:31 PM ET:

Bill:

In previous reports, the Pakistani army supposedly had control of all roads into and out of South Waziristan. If the Taliban has apparently melted away, presumably via narrow mountain trails and among fleeing civilians, doesn't this imply that they have lost most of their vehicles and all of their arms, ammunition and supplies there? Or are the Pakistani army highway checkpoints extremely porous? In judging the success or failure of this operation, can one assume that these South Waziristan Taliban have largely been disarmed for the time being? If so, does this not argue for pursuing them into North Waziristan?

Also, in the picture accompanying your report, some Pakistani soldiers appear to be wearing body armor. Is this in fact the case? Could this and increased use of air power/precision bombing account for the disparity in reported casualties between them and the Taliban, in contrast to their past military offenses?

Thanks again for your excellent reporting!

Posted by Bill Roggio at November 3, 2009 4:34 PM ET:

Cordell,

The military claims it controls all roads and paths. I am skeptical that secondary roads and paths are under control. Again given the lockdown on information it just is too difficult to know.

I'd argue they need to be pursued far beyond N Waziristan but that would be a good start. If the Army goes on the offensive there, then Nazir and the Haqqanis are very unlikely to sit out. So I don't see that happening.

I have sen Pakistani soldiers and even the Frontier Corps wearing body armor for the past year or so.

Posted by Bungo at November 3, 2009 4:40 PM ET:

This is starting to smell like a pretty overwhelming vicyory for the Paks in this Zone of Operation. As I initially expected the TaliQuiedas have no interest in any set-piece battles against an overwhelming force. The large majority of TaliQuieda fighters left a while ago. It's going to be extremely difficult to actually capture any of the High Value Targets because, as we all know, they specialize in leading from the rear. Let's hope the Paks don't decide to simply camp out for a while instead of pressing on to a decisive conclusion.

Posted by Tathagata Mukherjee at November 3, 2009 5:51 PM ET:

Its impossible to verify the claims of Pak army. Considering decades of its flirting with Islamic terror groups, refuse/replenishment provided to achieve strategic depth against Afghanistan and India, I wouldn't believe it. Soon we will see some deal with Talibans to give them rest.

The only way USA/NATO can win is- SECURE SOUTHERN BORDER of Afghsnistan with Pak, close all escape routes of these terrorists and simply kill them.

It needs man power, money, hard effort, STAYING POWER. Will US administration be willing to do that? Else, even the most advanced army the world has seen will become ineffective and failure.

Its hard times with economic woes- I doubt it will happen. So, we will see Pakistan biding time when US/NATO forces leave so Taliban can be used to again reclaim Afghanistan.

That will start a fearce fight between northern alliance and russia, india, iran will start supporting them again. We will see more bombings in India and occassional terror plots affecting the West (some of which will actually take place even after best effort of western intelligence to stop it).

Its not a dooms day report- this is reality- hard, long drawn war against Islamic terrorism centered in and around Pakistan.

Posted by Mr T at November 3, 2009 6:12 PM ET:

This whole operation is interesting. Of course, they have the strategy of fallback.

I wonder though, if they fall back enough, where will they all go? To the same place? What happens when that place is attacked? Where will they go then? They will have to stand and fight in mass at some point. Especially the foreign fighters who don't blend in. The natives can blend in and say they are villagers, then when the P-Stan Army gets stretched thin, they mount attacks and then claim , who me?

P-stan may not be quite as nice as NATO forces, especially if they control the reporting on the action. The fallback strategy may have some problems for the T-Ban. Unfortunately, they fall back to N Waziristan and hide out with Haqqani. P-stan won't go there so the Long War is inevitable.

Posted by cjr at November 3, 2009 6:16 PM ET:

"First reports are usually wrong".

My personal rule of thumb is that it takes about 3-4 months the first reliable reports on the overall situation start to filtering out of a war zone.

Posted by KaneKaizer at November 3, 2009 7:01 PM ET:

The death toll for the militants so far seems rather low, considering there are at least 10,000 Taliban and tens of thousands of other tribal fighters in SW. I think it's more likely that they are letting the Pakistanis move through their strongholds, stretching their lines and supplies so that the Taliban can attack them where it hurts, rather than simply fleeing to North Waziristan. On top of that, it wouldn't look good for the Taliban if they fled one of their longest held and heavily fortified regions just because they didn't want to take the risk of heavy losses.

It could be years before we know what is really happening right now.

Posted by Minnor at November 3, 2009 11:59 PM ET:

Two battalions of Pak army are deployed, they wear helmet compared to frontier corps. This reduces casualties.

Winning in conventional war means Taliban can not control ground and they have to go underground. Also means no vehicle transport and weapon factories. The operation also clears half the ammunition dumps, also kills ammunition mobility in large quantity.

Posted by naresh at November 4, 2009 12:50 AM ET:

In a month's time, there will be snowfall in Waziristan.
Pakistani army will have to retreat for a few months. South Waziristan will be Hakeemullah's territory once again, even without the TTP winning a single battle.
This is textbook guerrilla warfare.

Posted by Civy at November 4, 2009 1:03 AM ET:

...thus the folly of the "go slow" plan. It's like trying to hunt down gazelle riding oxen. We invented air-mobile operations in Vietnam for exactly this reason.

Hopefully they'll push them across the border where we'll rip their guts out with mobility and firepower. If displacement is the best they can do I guess we'll at least have a sealed border - more or less - to use as and anvil.

Posted by Bill at November 4, 2009 9:17 AM ET:

I have a strong feeling the Talban casualty figures are greatly under exaggerated. I not sure what the motivtion would be. I wasa supicious of all the miltant bodies that were buried in Swat and turned up later.

Posted by G-Shock at November 4, 2009 9:24 AM ET:

Why would Taliban leak their strategy. There must be another plan.

Posted by Moorthy Muthuswamy at November 4, 2009 10:27 AM ET:

Yes, taking out the terrorist infrastructure is important. But the question really is what you do the morning after.

Mosques and clerics in the restive regions of Pakistan perpetuate radicalism, sharia and jihad (as they do pretty much elsewhere in Pakistan). Unfortunately, the Pakistani state and their American sponsors are ideologically ill-prepared to counter them.

Posted by Zeissa at November 4, 2009 10:31 AM ET:

I hope the Pakistanis win, it would be nice for the Pakistanis, and I suppose in the short term - better for us not to have to deal with an entire nation hating the rest of the world...

oh wait. Most of them do.

Regardless, I hope they succeed.

Posted by Zeissa at November 4, 2009 10:33 AM ET:

Even China is disliked in this region (well, actually, I can understand that), but we've been a good ally in many ways as well.

Nations based on warrior religions just don't get along poorly with others.

As to the subject specifically:

snow falls, everyone goes home

Posted by zotz at November 4, 2009 11:42 AM ET:

If S. Waziristan can be secured the obvious next step is to drive the Taliban out of the northwest tribal areas of Pakistan leaving N. Waziristan surrounded on three sides by spring or summer 2010. If enough US troops can be placed on the border as a blocking force we could employ a classic hammer and anvil strategy to crush the Haqqanis in N. Waziristan.

Whether or not the Pakistanis could be pressured to do that is not clear. But their success in S. Waziristan is certainly a hopeful sign.

Posted by Mr T at November 4, 2009 12:30 PM ET:

"It needs man power, money, hard effort, STAYING POWER. Will US administration be willing to do that? Else, even the most advanced army the world has seen will become ineffective and failure."

Also interesting. We are the most advanced Army but can be beat because of failure of leadership due to political concerns.

Military plan with political backing is one thing. What is our plan for the madrassas, mosques, and clerics that perpetuate this hatred and murderous ideology? Is it, they turn out 100 militants and we kill 105 militants thereby reducing thier ranks over the long term? Or we kill 150 reducing the overall time frame? How about we reduce the number turned out from 100 to 5 while we kill off the current ones. What is Pakistan doing on that front?

Posted by Karachi-ite at November 4, 2009 12:30 PM ET:

Snow Fall

Sorry, we're staying.

This territory is being integrated into the N.W.F.P.

We want that, our bros in the ANP want that, and as far as I can tell, the US government may also want that.

Snow or no snow - this territory is getting a regular administration in a few years.

BTW - spare a thought for the South Waziristani Refugees. I believe the number is approaching 600,000.

Posted by Bungo at November 4, 2009 5:37 PM ET:

"What is our plan for the madrassas, mosques, and clerics that perpetuate this hatred and murderous ideology ?"

Though you are straying far from the battle currently underway you do pose one of the key questions concerning how to illiminate radical Islamic fundamentalist terrorism. The answer, of course, is the out-lawing of all Islamic "schools" ( Madrasas) and instituting mandatory Public Schools. This is the "Turkish Solution". Everyone gets a real education and the production of terrorists goes down to next to nothing. This is a simple solution that will have to happen one day in every Islamic country or this situation will go on forever.

Posted by Ali at November 4, 2009 8:48 PM ET:

The problem with these Talibans is that they enjoyed public sympathy as long as they were thought to work for the people or the cause which they said is supereme than their indivduals self.

But now the reality of Talibans are exposed to Pakistani people - that they are the enemy to the state, they are supported by powers who do not want to see Pakistani people progressing happily - These talibans are now considered as serving the cause of these foriegn powers rather than the cause of Pakistan.

Especially the tribal people has abondened them as these Talibans has sturck the basic values of the tribes of honour and brotherhood and used terror to remain dominant. Now the tide has turned against Talibans and tribes feels it honourable to fight of these butchers from their lands.

As they become less dominant so do their existance will wither away much faster than they ever dreamed of.

Posted by Bloodyscot at November 5, 2009 3:31 AM ET:

The Taliban are retreating back into their mountain strongholds but a rearguard of 1000 to 1500 men are slowing the army down. I think they are waiting for snow fall and buying time to reenforce their mountain strongholds. The Taliban have to get in close to fight like in cities or high mountain areas. I think in afew weeks the Taliban will have to make a stand or moving out the problem is this is where they nomally go in the winter to rest and train.