A Pakistani military commander said the current operation in the Khyber tribal agency has succeeded in clearing the Taliban from a vital area.
Brigadier Fayyaz, the commandant of Pakistan’s paramilitary Frontier Corps, told journalists that the operation in the Bara region in Khyber has been successful in driving out the Lashkar-e-Islam and other allied terrorists, and that most of the region has been cleared.
In the operation, 61 Lashkar-e-Islam fighters were killed and 87 other fighters including Uzbeks and Afghans, have been detained, Fayyaz told the media. Enemy bases, bunkers, and vehicles have been destroyed in the six-day-long operation. Fayyaz also claimed that the military found evidence that India was providing weapons to the Lashkar-e-Islam.
The Lashkar-e-Islam is commanded by Mangal Bagh Afridi, who has established a Taliban-like state in regions of Khyber.
Operations against the Taliban and allied groups are currently underway in the neighboring tribal agencies of Arakzai and Kurram. Senior Taliban leaders and fighters under the command of Hakeemullah Mehsud have decamped from South Waziristan to avoid the current operation.
Background on Pakistani 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.
An operation in June 2008 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.”
Just 10 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.
The latest operation took place on Sept. 1. The military again claimed the operation succeeded in defeating the Lashkar-e-Islam. The military claimed that more than 230 of the group’s fighters were killed during the operation.
Despite these operations, the Taliban have succeeded in forcing the closure of the Khyber Pass seven times since September 2007. The Khyber Pass is NATO’s main conduit for supplies into Afghanistan; over 70 percent of the supplies move through this strategic crossing point. In addition, more than 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.