Taliban capture over 100 Pakistani soldiers in South Waziristan

Red agencies/ districts controlled by the Taliban; purple is defacto control; yellow is under threat.

The Taliban insurgency in the Northwest Frontier Province intensifies as a large force of Taliban fighters captured a company of Pakistani soldiers in South Waziristan. The Taliban captured “over 100 security forces personnel after intercepting a military convoy in the Mehsud-dominated tribal area,” Dawn reported. The Taliban have claimed over 300 Pakistani soldiers were captured by a large Taliban force near Luddah, which is about 25 miles north of Wana, but the highest estimate given by Pakistani sources is 130. “The Taliban had also impounded 17 trucks which were carrying troops,” Pakistani sources told Dawn. “Nine of the hostages were reported to be officers including a colonel.”

Maj. Gen. Waheed Arshad, the Pakistani military spokesman, initially claimed the troops sought shelter in a valley during a storm, and contact was lost. “There is no suggestion of kidnapping or fighting,” said Arshad at the initial reports of the capture of the Pakistani soldiers. Arshad later backtracked and told CBS News the soldiers have been freed by the Taliban and the “situation has almost been resolved.”

But there is no indication the troops have been freed. “Intelligence officials in South Waziristan said the militants had taken the soldiers to different hideouts in the mountains,” Reuters reported. Both Dawn and Reuters have reported the Pakistani government has sent emissaries to negotiate with the Taliban to secure the conditions of the release. A Pakistani security official told Dawn that “contacts had been established with the Mehsud jirga to approach militant commander Baitullah Mehsud at the earliest and help secure the safe release of the security personnel.” Baitullah Mehsud is one of the most the powerful Taliban commanders in South Waziristan; it is estimated he commands upwards of 30,000 well-trained fighters.

One issue that is not being discussed is both the skill and size of military units needed to force a company of Pakistani troops to surrender with no violence. A senior US intelligence official told The Long War Journal that this Pakistani unit was an experienced regular army unit, not a paramilitary unit such as the Levies or Frontier Constables. “This was a Punjabi company, loyal to Musharraf, which conducts operations against the Taliban when needed,” the official stated.

Dawn provides some hints on how the troops were captured.

The incident occurred following a verbal argument between officers and some militants. “Not a single shot was fired.” The official account was confirmed by locals who said the militants had stopped the military convoy at four places before taking the drastic action. One security official said the militants had objected to the military’s attempt to establish pickets on the route of the convoy.

Based on this account, which was given to Dawn by both South Waziristan locals and Pakistani security officials, the Pakistani convoy was well aware of the rising tensions in the region. With the convoy having been stopped at four checkpoints and there being arguments with the Taliban, the Pakistani troops were not taken unawares.

The Taliban either prepared for the operation in advance, or quickly assembled and planned the operation. The Taliban had enough foot soldiers with sufficient heavy weapons placed in prepared fighting positions to impress upon the regular Pakistani army officers to surrender without firing a shot. Depending on the terrain and available armaments to the Taliban, perhaps 500 to 1,000 Taliban fighters were on hand to conduct the operation. As we have noted in the past, the Taliban are organizing into well-trained military formations.

The Pakistani troops also surrendered while knowing that 19 soldiers were currently in the custody of Baitullah Mehsud’s Taliban. One of those soldiers was brutally beheaded by a 12-year-old boy. This gruesome acted was videotaped and distributed to the media as a warning.

Despite the repeated attacks against Pakistani troops, the beheadings of captured personnel and the continual kidnappings, the Pakistani government is still interested in preserving the failed “peace accords” signed with the Taliban in 2005 and 2006. This is clear from a statement made by Dawn‘s source. “[The military] have been told to establish immediate contact with the militant commander [Baitullah Mehsud.] On our part the Sara Rogha agreement [the South Waziristan Accord] is intact.”

Baitullah, who is wanted for his involvement with a suicide bombing campaign in the spring of 2007, has been behind many of the Taliban attacks against the military in South Waziristan and sends his Taliban into Afghanistan to attack NATO and Afghan forces and civilians. Baitullah has also sheltered al Qaeda operatives and has established al Qaeda training camps in South Waziristan. Yet the Pakistani government still seeks to negotiate with Mehsud and others committing violence against the state.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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16 Comments

  • joe says:

    I suspected the news release about the soldiers being lost and then found okay was bogus. There was way to much contradictory information out there. Thanks for clearing it up.
    I hate to admit it but I am very impressed. Capturing over 100 soldiers is no joke. This is incredibly humiliating for Musharaff and the Punjabi Generals in the army that still back him. They will likely do anything to resolve this as quick as possible. I would expect to see massive prisoner releases and more peace / surrender agreements signed in the near future. 130 soldiers is one hell of a bargaining chip.

  • Honza P says:

    And what happens to the Talibs’ residual support if the government calls their bluff? It tanks, I should say. So much for “honored guests”. No more safe passage to Red Mosques.
    But the military doesn’t wnat to lose the Islamist card against India, and it’ll likely cave again.

  • Neo says:

    No doubt this will embolden the Teliban.

  • cjr says:

    “The Taliban either prepared for the operation in advance, or quickly assembled and planned the operation.”
    Or it was an inside job: Pakistani commanders sold out their own soldiers.

  • KaneKaizer says:

    I’ve seen sources with more than 100, more than 200, more than 300 Pakistani soldiers being captured. It’s hard to tell, but whichever number is true its still incredible. I’ve never heard of so many soldiers being captured all at once, and without even a fight.
    The Taliban forces in Waziristan seem much larger and much more effective than the ones in Afghanistan. Perhaps they know they’ll have a better chance of success if they focus on Pakistan?

  • anand says:

    CJR, I would say you are paranoid . . . except for the fact that you might be right.
    Pakistan has the best military in the world relative to the amount of money they spend. (India is probably second best, but India spends 3% of GDP on defence and India’s GDP is likely to be $1.2 trillion next year compared to Pakistan’s expected $155 billion in 2008.)
    Pakistan’s military is much better quality than Iran’s, Syria’s, Egypt’s (and slightly better than Jordan’s or Turkey’s). It is hard to imagine a 100-300 man experienced Panjabi regular army company loyal to the Pakistani Army being taken prisoner without a major gunfight.
    There has to be an inside connection (even if not at the level of the CO). The Taliban unit also must have had highly capable Pakistani military vets leading them.
    CJR/Bill/DJ/Neo/everyone else, I think we need to bite the bullet and announce a $50 billion aid package to Afghanistan over 10 years in addition to the $10 billion the Congress just passed. Most of that should go to building, maintaining and funding ongoing operations for the Afghan Security Forces. We should use all our influence and leadership capabilities to ask other countries to contribute foreign aid to Afghanistan-preferably military aid but economic if that is politically more palatable.
    NATO and the international community will offer only limited and insufficient support in this effort for a limited time . . . and the Taliban is much more capable than is generally perceived. The new “Taliban Lite”

  • David M says:

    Trackbacked by The Thunder Run – Web Reconnaissance for 09/01/2007
    A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention updated throughout the day so check back often. This is a weekend edition so updates are as time and family permits.

  • Don Bistrow says:

    Musharraf is in the deepest trouble of his career and his government is coming to the mercy of exiled, former Pakistani Prime Ministers who suddenly hold more power.
    Musharraf has been asked to stop wearing his uniform and give up his position as head of the military. He will than have support for a new election in which he will be given another five years in office.
    As the exiles come back and a power shift takes place in the government it will be interesting if Pakistan can recover and fight the Taliban and establish itself as a legitimate ally against terror.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    KBK, tht was the ISPR party line on Thursday. Read the date on the article you linked. Now the Pakistanis are negotiating with the Taliban for their release. And the number of captured soldiers seems to have shot up to 150…

  • KBK says:

    I see. Thanks.

  • Anthony says:

    Just how inept is the Paki Army anyway? 100 soldiers should be able to hold on long enough until relief can arrive, that is if they have any training whatsoever.

  • Sher bahdur YusufZai says:

    Unit made hostage is The 7 Baloch Regiment.
    It is a regular army .
    CO of the unit has surrendered because of selfish and personal gains policies of Musharaf .

  • Rhyno101st/lrsd says:

    the ONLY way to take care of the problem in the NWFP’s, is US military intervention. a 5 day bombing campaign followed up by air-assault from the Army, Marines. Spec.Ops to take HVT’s. we could be on this merry go round for years…

  • fightback says:

    This reeks of an inside job.

  • RTLM says:

    India will be a factor in this.

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