Pakistani military claims success in Bajaur
Taliban control in northwestern Pakistan. Click map to view.
The Pakistani military is claiming success in one of the Taliban's strongholds in the tribal agency of Bajaur.
The military is advancing through the Mamond region in Bajaur, an area that has served as the headquarters for Faqir Mohammed, the leader of the Taliban in Bajaur and the deputy leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. Mamond has also served as a safe haven for al Qaeda and the Swat chapter of the Taliban. Two of the three recorded Predator airstrikes in carried out by the US in Bajaur targeted senior al Qaeda leaders, including Ayman al Zawahiri, in Damadola in Mamond.
The military has relied heavily on air and artillery strikes to root out the Taliban. According to press reports from Pakistan, 139 Taliban fighters and only two soldiers have been killed since the fighting began in late January in the tribal agency.
The military recently claimed that 90 percent of Bajaur has been cleared of a Taliban presence, while the town of Damadola, Faqir's seat of power in Mamond, and the Taliban center of Sewai are under its control. The military has established checkpoints in the region.
The military began the latest offensive in Bajaur on Jan. 25, after the Mamond tribe refused to abide by a peace agreement signed in March 2009. The 28-point agreement called for the tribe to hand over Faqir and other Taliban leaders, expel al Qaeda fighters, and end opposition to government rule.
The military has claimed success in Bajaur in the past, but has failed to quell the Taliban insurgency. In March 2009, the military claimed that the Taliban had "lost" in Bajaur and the neighboring tribal agency of Mohmand after a bloody, six-month-long operation.
"They have lost," Major General Tariq Khan, the head of the Frontier Corps who commanded the operation in 2008-2009, told reporters on March 1, 2009. "Their resistance has broken down. We think we have secured this agency. The Taliban have lost their cohesion."
But the Taliban persisted and reestablished control over much of the agency throughout the summer of 2009. In Bajaur, as elsewhere in the tribal areas and greater northwest, the Taliban have attacked pro-government tribal leaders. In particular, the Taliban have targeted tribal leaders who have raised lashkars, or militias, to fight alongside the military. Since Jan. 1 this year, in Bajaur alone, the Taliban have killed eight pro-government tribal leaders and have kidnapped two others. Between October and December 2009, the Taliban killed six pro-government tribal leaders in Bajaur.
The government has relied on the tribal militias to keep the Taliban out of areas cleared in operations, but has provided little financial or military support to these tribes. In some cases, as with a tribe in Swat, the military stood by while tribal leaders were brutally murdered.