Al Qaeda and the Taliban’s Pakistani insurgency

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

The Taliban and al Qaeda continue to conduct their violent insurgency in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province, and beyond. The desired state, which has been outlined by the actions of the Taliban and statements by al Qaeda, is the overthrow of the Pakistani government.

The latest attack occurred in the settled district of Bannu in the Northwest Frontier Province. A Taliban suicide bomber riding a rickshaw attacked a bus stop in Afsar Chowk. Sixteen were killed, including four police, and 31 were wounded in the strike.

The Taliban are attacking President Pervez Musharraf’s hold on political and military power in Pakistan. The Taliban is also working to weaken the resolve of the police, military, and civilians in the Northwest Frontier Province and beyond. The Taliban and al Qaeda have struck Pakistani military bases in Dargai, Kharian, Dera Ismail Khan, Hangu, and North and South Waziristan. Military convoys have been repeatedly hit by suicide attacks, improvised explosive devices, and ambushes throughout the Northwest Frontier Province. The Bannu suicide attack is the latest in series of Taliban suicide strikes at civilian, police, military, and governmental targets inside Pakistan.

September 4: Two suicide bombers attacked military and intelligence targets in the military garrison city of Rawalpindi. The bombers conducted near simultaneous attacks at the Royal Artillery bazaar and on a bus carrying Inter Services Intelligence personnel. Over 25 were killed and 68 were wounded.

September 11: A 15-year-old suicide bomber killed 17 and wounded 16 in an attack on a bus in Dera Ismail Khan.

September 16: A suicide bomber attacked the dining hall of the elite Karar commando anti-terrorism group at their base in Ghazi Tarbela. Sixteen commandos were killed and 29 wounded. The commandos have hunted al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Pakistani investigators believe the attack was an “inside job.” The president of the Taliban-supporting MMA political party blamed the government for the suicide attack.

In a related incident, the Taliban killed 18 commandos during a battle in North Waziristan on September 16. Fifteen of the bodies of the commandos were recovered, and several of them were mutilated, with throats cut and limbs hacked off.

September 22: A suicide bomber wounded three soldiers after ramming a convoy in Tank.

The Waziristan problem

The tribal agencies have long been recognized as the nexus for al Qaeda and the Taliban’s suicide campaigns in Pakistan, Afghanistan and beyond. The Pakistani Ministry of the Interior has repeatedly accused the powerful South Waziristan Taliban leaders Baitullah and Abdullah Mehsud of carrying out the suicide campaigns inside PakistanOver 80 percent of Afghanistan’s suicide attackers “pass through recruitment, training facilities or safe houses in North or South Waziristan en route to their targets,” a Taliban commander told the United Nations, said Adrian Edwards, the spokesman for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan told The long War Journal.

The 2005 London Tubes attacks, the 2006 London Airline plot, numerous suicide attacks and bombings in India, and other plots have been traced back to the Waziristan agencies. Most recently, the three terrorists arrested in Germany for plotting attacks were likely trained by North Waziristan-based al Qaeda commander Abu Hanifah.

Fears over the Taliban and al Qaeda training camps heightened in early August after US intelligence reported the trainees and staffs of 28 of the 29 terror camps in the Waziristans left for reasons unknown. Intelligence and military contacts feared attacks against the West, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India would escalate.

Attacks remain steady over the past week in North Waziristan. Three tribesmen were killed and nine soldiers and eight civilians were wounded in Taliban attacks on September 28. The Taliban killed one soldier and wounded 12 in an ambush on a convoy in North Waziristan; another eight were wounded in attacks on check posts on September 29.

The Taliban beheaded two more “US Spies” on September 27. A senior military intelligence official told The Long War Journal the number of assassinations of “US Spies” in the Waziristans far exceeds the reported incidents, and the US human intelligence network in the region has been decimated over the past two years.

Beyond Waziristan

The fighting spread beyond the Waziristans long ago. The Taliban and al Qaeda have not limited their insurgency to suicide attacks alone. The IED attacks, ambushes, kidnappings, bombings, beheadings, and other forms of violence over past week are representative of the situation in the Northwest Frontier Province over the past two years.

In the Mohmand tribal agency, the Taliban beheaded a woman they deemed a “prostitute.” The Taliban also sprayed graffiti stating “Long live suicide bombers, the Taliban movement and Mohmand tigers” in multiple locations in the agencies. The Mohmand Taliban took control of a mosque and renamed it the “Red Mosque,” in honor of a Taliban seminary assaulted by the Pakistani government in July. The Pakistani government signed away Mohmand agency to the Taliban in late August.

Attacks on the settled districts in the Northwest Frontier Province continue on a daily basis. The Taliban bombed two CD shops in Hangu on September 28. In Tank, one security official was killed and 12 wounded in a Taliban IED ambush on a military convoy. The Taliban also bombed a missionary public school in Bannu, while shops were destroyed in a bombing in Swat.

The relentless Taliban and al Qaeda attacks on the police and military have shaken the security services. Not only are the police and military shying away from fighting the Taliban in the tribal agencies and settled districts of the Northwest Frontier Province, military officers and soldiers have defected and thrown in their lot with the terrorists.

The police have essentially ceded security to the Taliban in Bannu and Tank. And a Pakistani Army unit of about 300 soldiers still remains in Taliban captivity over one month after being captured.

Al Qaeda calls for the end of the Musharraf regime

The Taliban and al Qaeda have worked hand in hand to plot against the Pakistani government. In July 2007, al Qaeda spokesman Abu Yahya al Libi called for the overthrow of the Pakistani government by the security forces and the Pakistani public. “Rise as one, and see if Allah will be pleased. Go to battle together in order to be rid of this infidel tyrant and remove his heretic secular rule,” Yahya said. “May you pound away at his fragile army, at his swarms of intelligence miscreants and the fortresses of his unbelieving control.”

While Yahya’s statements were largely ignored due to his relatively junior status in al Qaeda’s leadership, al Qaeda’s desire to overthrow the Musharraf regime has been telegraphed for several years. Al Qaeda attempted to assassinate President Musharraf multiple times in 2003-2004, while the Waziristan insurgencies during 2004-2006 were attempted to establish an Islamic emirate inside Pakistan.

Attacks against the Pakistani government intensified after the January 2006 attempt on Ayman al Zawahiri’s life in Bajaur. Attacks in the Northwest Frontier Province skyrocketed and the government began to lose its grip on the settled districts. The insurgency gained strength after the Pakistani government signed the Waziristan Accord in September 2006. The Waziristan Accord, which ceded North Waziristan to the Taliban, emboldened the Taliban both inside Pakistan and in Afghanistan.

The al Qaeda strategy of overthrowing the Pakistani government became official when Osama bin Laden called for the overthrow of the Musharraf regime. “[F]ight against Musharraf, his army, his government and his supporters…” bin Laden said, echoing Yahya’s words over two months ago. Bin Laden’s words will have a powerful effect on Pakistanis sympathetic to the Taliban’s cause.

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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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