Pakistani Taliban overrun rival faction's headquarters, dozens killed


Tirah_Valley.jpg

Residents pick through rubble following a military air strike against suspected militant positions in the Tirah Valley, Khyber Agency, in late December 2012. Militants associated with Ansar-ul-Islam and Tehrik-e-Taliban-e Pakistan (TTP) have been battling each other over the strategic highlands of eastern Khyber for several months. Source: Pakistan Dunya News.

Two nights ago, hundreds of Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan (Tehrik-e-Taliban-e Pakistan or TTP) militants overran the headquarters of a rival faction, Ansar-ul-Islam, deep inside the Tirah Valley, Khyber Agency, following months of fierce clashes between the two outlawed Islamist factions. Fighting between the two factions had intensified this weekend, and on Sunday, TTP fighters stormed Malikdinkhel and seized the Bagh headquarters and its surrounding bazaar, according to the News International.

Emir of Ansar-ul-Islam Maulana Qazi Mehboob-ul Haq and General Secretary of Ansar-al Islam Qari Izzatullah Ham Khial reportedly fled the Bagh area for Zakhakhel shortly before the TTP overran Bagh. However, the homes of Mehboob and Izzatullah located in Malikdinkhel have since been blown up by TTP fighters, and their headquarters in Bagh is now under TTP control. Although the nearby areas of Shalobar and portions of Zakhakhel have also fallen to the TTP Lashkar-e-Islam fighters, Ansar-ul-Islam General Secretary Qari Izzatullah Ham Khial vowed that his group would defeat the rival factions from positions in Zakhakhel and Arakzai.

Shortly after the TTP takeover of Bagh on Monday, two Ansar-ul-Islam suicide bombers attacked TTP militants as they ransacked the Ansar-ul-Islam headquarters and killed 46 militants, including an Uzbek Uzbek commander named Abu Islam, according to a regional press report.

Infighting in Khyber has forced 644 families belonging to the Qambarkhel tribe to flee for their lives this week, many of them taking up shelter in the Sanghara area of Arakzai Agency, adding to the already 24,000 displaced people fleeing the recent fighting in Khyber, according to the News International.

Clashes continue

Ansar-ul-Islam spokesman Sadat Afridi told the Express Tribune that Ansar-ul-Islam fighters have retaken the Haidar Kandao check post after fierce clashes with the TTP in Bar Qamber Khel, but he conceded that the TTP have regained control in Bhutan Sharif, Ziarat Sar, and Machapura areas. Additional fighting between the TTP and Ansar-ul-Islam has been reported in the Parail Sanghar, Dakhay, Difa, Angoray, Nandokhay, and Fateh Ziarat areas, with casualties mounting on both sides.

Pakistani military jets have been pounding TTP positions around the Tirah Valley since February, including the latest round of strikes in the Tarkikhel and Durbikhel areas which reportedly destroyed three "hideouts." Ansar-ul-Islam is allied with local Lashkar Aman (Peace Army) elements, and is suspected of receiving covert aid from the Pakistani government to act as a bulwark against TTP expansion, despite Pakistan's outlawing of the group in 2008.

TTP fighters and Ansar-ul-Islam have fought pitched battles in the Tirah Valley highlands since January, resulting in the deaths of over 80 fighters and civilians between Jan. 25 and Jan. 29 alone, according to RFE/RFL. Beginning in February, the militant faction Lashkar-e-Islam, a rival of Ansar-ul-Islam, reportedly launched coordinated attacks with the TTP against Ansar-ul-Islam in Khyber Agency. Particularly intense battles raged in late January and early February between the rival Islamist factions near the contested area of Kismat Sangar.

The Islamist network in Khyber

In 2012, there were an estimated 130 militant groups operating in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), with five major groups in Khyber Agency at the time pitted against each other, according to Ashraf Ali, director of the FATA Research Centre, an Islamabad-based think tank. The five major militant groups in Khyber Agency are, according to Ali: the TTP led by Tariq Afridi; Ansar-ul-Islam; Lashkar-e-Islam; Tauheed-e-Islam, jointly led by Tayyab and Ghunzha Gul; and Amer bil Maroof Wa-Nahee Anil Munkir, led by Maulvi Naamdar.

Latif Afridi, a secular politician from Khyber Agency, warned RFE/RL in January that TTP and al Qaeda control of the Tirah Valley would have serious consequences for the security of the surrounding regions, namely the ability of the TTP to launch further attacks against Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

The Tirah Valley has been a known haven for the TTP, the Lashkar-e-Islam, al Qaeda, and other Pakistani terror groups. Safe havens in the valley enable these terror groups to launch attacks inside Pakistan as well as across the border in Afghanistan's Nangarhar province. The US drones targeted al Qaeda and Taliban forces in the Tirah Valley four times in 2010. In one such strike in December 2010, US drones killed Ibn Amin, a dual-hatted Taliban and al Qaeda military commander who operated in the Swat Valley.

Taliban attacks in the region continue unabated. On Monday, two suicide bombers attacked the Judicial Complex in Peshawar, killing four people and wounding another 47, including two women.

Earlier this week, TTP spokesman Ihsanullah ihsan announced that the group has 'temporarily suspended' its peace dialogue offer to the Pakistani government, pending the formation of a new government. However, Ihsan warned Pakistani citizens to stay away from the political rallies held by the ANP, Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), and Pakistan's People Party (PPP) -- a veiled threat that the TTP would not refrain from continuing the terrorist campaign against Pakistani political organizations, leaders, and rallies.

The TTP has assassinated Pakistani politicians in the recent past. On Dec. 22, 2012, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Senior Minister and leader of the Awami National Party (ANP) Bashir Ahmad Bilour was assassinated in a Taliban suicide attack in Dhaki Naalbandi, Peshawar. [See Long War Journal report, Taliban suicide bomber kills Pakistani provincial minister.]



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READER COMMENTS: "Pakistani Taliban overrun rival faction's headquarters, dozens killed"

Posted by Baitullah's Ghost at March 20, 2013 10:53 AM ET:

This more perfect than a foot rub on a rooftop.

Posted by gb at March 20, 2013 11:52 AM ET:

This is great news, hopefully there will be mass casualties on both sides..

Posted by mike merlo at March 20, 2013 12:11 PM ET:

No surprise here. Anybody that's spent more than a cursory look studying the Pathan Tribal's knows that this behavior is SOP. Its impossible for these Tribal's to maintain the necessary level of cohesiveness to pose a long term threat.

Posted by Jack Williams at March 20, 2013 12:40 PM ET:

The good news is that they are killing each other and Pakistani enablers in large numbers. The bad news is that they are killing each other and Pakistani enablers in large numbers. I suggest lets supply both sides with heavy weapons (with internal disabling software) so that they can kill each other more efficiently.

The State of Pakistan only has about another 5 years before it totally collapses, progressively fracturing into many small, waring, feudal fiefs, with accompaning wide spread destruction. What is in our interests? A disfunctional terrorist State? Or a disfunctional terrorist Area?

Posted by harp1034 at March 20, 2013 2:40 PM ET:

Oh my, let's just hope they kill each other off.

Posted by My2Cents at March 20, 2013 2:42 PM ET:

I wish both sides success in eliminating the other.

Posted by Birbal Dhar at March 20, 2013 4:13 PM ET:

Interesting to hear TTP members getting themselves blown up by opposition suicide bombers. That must be unique in this world, as I've not heard of any other Al Qaeda linked groups in the world getting blown up by opposition suicide bombers.

Posted by SlayerMill at March 20, 2013 4:26 PM ET:

This is hilarious. It's like watching two drunk frat boys fight over who gets to take the ugly girl home after the party. No one cares who wins because they're both d-bags ruining everyone else's fun with their drunken antics. Everyone just wants to see the frat boys pummel each other unconscious in the back yard so the party can continue inside the house without the frat boys there making a scene.

Posted by David at March 20, 2013 5:11 PM ET:

@ Jack Williams

I know your question was rhetorical, but --

A dysfunctional terrorist state is FAR worse for us than a dysfunctional terrorist area. The aid and assistance of Pakistan is a huge force multiplier for Al Qaeda, IMHO. Al Qaeda is technically incompetent, compared to state actors like the ISI and Qods Force, and Pakistan provides trainers, and equipment. Pakistan also aids them in many other ways, such as with travel documents, and an umbrella of sovereignty which is politically difficult for us to penetrate with our forces. Look at how difficult it was for us to go in to get OBL. The example of a dysfunctional terrorist area is Somalia, and Mali, and we have had far greater freedom of action there, and far more success.

Posted by patricko at March 20, 2013 5:15 PM ET:

As Henry Kissingger emarked at the beginning of the Iran-Irag war in the 80's "It's a shame they both can't lose."

Posted by wallbangr at March 20, 2013 5:55 PM ET:

As much as I agree with the majority of comments wishing all sides would inflict as much damage as possible, I think it somewhat ominous that the TTP seems to have scored a victory here. Not that the other groups are a whole lot better, but I can't help blanching at Ishanulla, Afridi and company gaining the upper hand. In anything. What would be ideal is parity between these groups so that they can keep each other in check rather than one group, particularly the TTP, claiming dominance over the tribal areas. Better to have these cats constantly looking over their own shoulder (as opposed to just looking up in the sky for drones) than running around the FATA with impunity.

Posted by DC at March 20, 2013 6:23 PM ET:

Yes indeed, both sides need some time expiring, short range
nuclear weapons.

I

Posted by Pete at March 20, 2013 11:10 PM ET:

This is really great news. I say we bring all of our troops home from that part of the world but leave behind a whole lot of ammo. Rock on Jihadists!

Posted by irebukeu at March 20, 2013 11:34 PM ET:

Any Americans injured?

Posted by Moose at March 21, 2013 12:05 AM ET:

@Jack Williams,
Pakistan won't collapse anytime soon. This is the sort of Pashtun infighting Islamabad enjoys watching.

I recently came across a 2009 report from the Atlantic Council that was co-authored by former senators John Kerry and Chuck Hagel after they traveled to Islamabad. The report predicted that Pakistan was on the verge of collapsing if we didn't authorize the Biden-Kerry-Lugar legislation. This legislation called for $15 BILLION in financial assistance to Pakistan over the course of a decade.

It was around the same time that militants took over the Swat Valley and Pakistan was sounding the alarm that its nuclear weapons were in danger, which is one of the most ridiculous and laughable things to come out of that government.

It's a simple tactic: Pakistan creates bogeymen when they want our money. Otherwise, they could care less if Pashtuns blow themselves up as long as it doesn't affect Pakistan-proper.

What I found really interesting in the report was the ridiculous language coming from the Pakistani civilian and military establishment to con people like Kerry and Hagel. You can find the report here: http://www.acus.org/publication/pakistan-report

Posted by sundoesntrise at March 21, 2013 6:55 AM ET:

I await the Islamist press releases claiming that not only is this not true, but that they inflicted severe casualties on the American "invaders" and Pakistani "collaborators"....

Posted by Mr T at March 21, 2013 12:24 PM ET:

Muslims killing Muslims? A big no no in the Koran, unless of course your a warlord and you want to. Then religion is just set aside for personal gain. Use Islam when you need it and reject it when it doesn't suit your purposes. Real believers there.

Posted by irebukeu at March 21, 2013 2:33 PM ET:

@Mr. T You cannot out Islam the Islamists. These people always can find a context within their view of their religion for what they do, to explain their killings.

Its always the other Muslim that is the apostate and must die.

Posted by bard207 at March 21, 2013 11:44 PM ET:

Pakistan continues to complain about the U.S. violating their sovereignty, yet the PA (Pakistani Army) isn't putting boots on the ground to reclaim territory controlled by the TTP and demonstrate that their sovereignty really is as important that they claim it is.

Pakistan also complained about the U.S. - ISAF not taking action against some TTP members who crossed into Afghanistan. Yet, the PA refuses to take forceful action and eliminate the TTP actively fighting inside Pakistan.

Just more variations of taqiyya by the PA.


Posted by sundoesntrise at March 22, 2013 3:19 AM ET:

Mr.T, irebekeu,

It is true that a large portion Muslims do that these days - using their religion to point the fingers at others, and to suit their own agendas and political purposes - the whole world has witnessed that for the past couple of decades now.

But I should also point for posterity that that is a human feature and it is not exclusive to Muslims. It is human nature to believe you are stubbornly right until the end. Those who possess logic and intelligence will see the error of their ways and attempt to change. Those who do not possess logic and intelligence will resort to brutal animalistic violence.