A female Taliban suicide bomber killed 42 Pakistani civilians in an attack today at a World Food Program ration distribution point in Pakistan’s tribal agency of Bajaur.
The female suicide bomber detonated her vest in the midst of a crowd of more than 300 people waiting at an outside checkpoint for handouts from the World Food Program in Khar, the main town in Bajaur. Those waiting for food were among the internally displaced people who had fled the fighting between the military and the Taliban over the past three years.
Pakistani officials said that 42 people were killed and 72 more were wounded, some critically.
Today’s attack takes place just one day after the Taliban launched a series of assaults on Pakistani Frontier Corps checkpoints in Mohmand, which borders Bajaur to the south. In those clashes, 11 Frontier Corps troops and 24 Taliban fighters were reported killed.
This summer, the Bajaur Taliban vowed to continue to attack security forces and pro-government tribes. On July 8, the Taliban issued pamphlets in Bajaur announcing their return and threatening to kill tribesmen who support the government.
In the pamphlets, the Taliban “threatened the people, particularly the government employees and security forces, not to support the agenda of the US and its allies,” The News reported. “The militants said that they would continue their ‘jihad’ against the US and its supporters. They also urged the Taliban fighters not to surrender to the government and warned them and security forces of stern action.”
Over the past two years, the Pakistani military has twice declared victory in Bajaur.
The first time was on March 1, 2009, when Major General Tariq Khan declared victory in Bajaur. “They have lost,” Khan told reporters after a brutal campaign that began in August 2008 was declared to have ended. “Their resistance has broken down. We think we have secured this agency. The Taliban have lost their cohesion.” And in the neighboring tribal agency of Mohmand, Colonel Saif Ullah claimed the Taliban had been defeated and that the region was “under the control of law enforcement agencies.”
But the Taliban continued to exert control in Bajaur and Mohmand during 2009, killing tribal leaders who dared to work with the Pakistani government and military.
Earlier this year, General Khan again claimed victory in Bajaur. On March 2, 2010, one year and one day after claiming the Taliban had lost in Bajaur, Khan again declared victory. He said that more than 2,200 Taliban fighters had been killed during two years of military operations.
Yet although the military claimed to have defeated the Taliban in Bajaur in both 2009 and 2010, the Taliban’s senior leadership in this tribal agency remains at large.
Top leaders in the tribal agency, including Faqir Mohammed, a senior leader in Hakeemullah Mehsud’s Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan and a close ally to al Qaeda’s Ayman Zawahiri, have evaded Pakistani security forces during the offensive. Military officials claimed Faqir was killed in August 2008, but he later surfaced. Faqir established a parallel government in Bajaur, complete with sharia courts, recruiting centers and training camps, taxation, and security forces.
The US has conducted several airstrikes Bajaur, including two attacks that targeted Zawahiri and another that killed Abu Sulayman Jazairi, a senior Algerian operative for al Qaeda who was the terror group’s operational commander tasked with planning attacks against the West.