The Pakistani military launched a ground assault today into a village known as Machis just outside of the Haqqani Network stronghold of Miramshah in North Waziristan. A battalion of Pakistani soldiers moved into the village to clear out fighters belonging to the al Qaeda-linked Turkistan Islamic Party. From The New York Times:
Over 1,000 troops, backed by tanks and helicopter gunships, moved after dawn into a neighborhood on the edge of the district’s main town, Miram Shah, that had become a sanctuary for Uzbek and Chinese fighters, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Residents said an intense two-hour artillery bombardment preceded the operation, during which Pakistani-made surveillance drones hovered overhead.
But the troops met little resistance because most residents of the area, known as Matches Camp, had evacuated their homes a day earlier after being warned to leave by the authorities. “No one is left there now,” said the security official…
But several officials said the assaults also targeted ethnic Uighur fighters allied with the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, a Chinese Islamist separatist group whose presence in Pakistan has long been the cause of Chinese government complaints ….
The Uighur fighters, who are dotted across militant havens in Waziristan, are an embarrassment to Mr. Sharif, who sees China as a crucial economic and military partner for Pakistan. On Thursday his brother Shahbaz Sharif, the chief minister of Punjab Province, signed an agreement with Chinese officials in Shanghai for the construction of a commuter train line in Lahore.
The operation took place as suspected Uighur terrorists conducted attacks in Urumqi in China’s western province of Xinjiang that killed 31 people. Additionally, the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan claimed credit for the kidnapping of a Chinese national in the nearby district of Dera Ismail Khan in northwestern Pakistan. The Chinese government has long pressured Pakistani to dismantle the Turkistan Islamic Party’s network, which is headquartered in the tribal areas.
The Turkistan Islamic Party operates in China as well as Central and South Asia, and is thought to have scores of fighters in Pakistan’s tribal areas and in Afghanistan. TIP fighters have been killed by Coalition forces in Afghanistan and by US drone strikes in Pakistan. Abu Ubaydah Abdullah al Adam, a senior al Qaeda leader who is thought to have been killed in a drone strike, has written several biographies for TIP fighters killed in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The group’s leaders also hold senior positions in al Qaeda. Abdul Haq al Turkistani, the slain former leader of the Turkistan Islamic Party, was a member of al Qaeda’s Shura Majlis, or executive council. And Abdul Shakoor al Turkistani, who was rumored to have been killed in a drone strike in 2012, is also thought to have been appointed to the Shura Majlis, in addition to being designated commander of al Qaeda forces in the tribal areas.
Prior to the US invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, Abdul Haq ran a training camp for his recruits at al Qaeda’s Tora Bora camp in Nangarhar province in Afghanistan [see LWJ report, The Uighurs in their own words]. He later reestablished camps for the Turkistan Islamic Party in Pakistan’s lawless, Taliban-controlled tribal areas. Twenty-two Turkistan Islamic Party operatives were ultimately captured and detained at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.