The Pakistani military and the Taliban continue to battle in the tribal agencies of Orakzai and South Waziristan. While the Pakistani military spokesman is claiming success in Orakzai, more than 50 paramilitary troops from the Frontier Corps have been reported captured since the military moved in several days ago. The military is reporting success during operations in South Waziristan.
Fighting has been reported to be intense in the tribal agency of Orakzai. The clashes in Orakzai started on Jan. 25 after Taliban forces seized five trucks laden with supplies destined for forces in North Waziristan. The military moved in forces and cordoned the city of Darra Adam Khel, while the Taliban took over the Kohat Tunnel, a strategic link along the Indus Highway that connects Peshawar to the southern tribal agencies. The military declared a cease-fire in Darra Adam Khel on Jan. 26 while local religious leaders formed a peace jirga, or committee, to resolve the situation.
The Pakistani military has claimed at least 34 Taliban were killed during the opening round of the fighting, but has only reported two soldiers killed. Yet Pakistani news outlets are reporting Frontier Corps troops have been captured during two separate clashes. The Taliban abducted 14 Frontier Corps troops from a checkpoint in Kohat at the start of the battle, The Nation reported. “Locals informed [The Nation] that the militants had paraded the 14 hostages in a bazaar of Darra Adam Khel.”
Another 40 Frontier Corps troops were captured attempting to regain control of the tower at the peak of the Kohat Tunnel Mountain, The Frontier Post reported. “Eight Frontier Corps men were slaughtered, the sources further claimed, adding that local religious men were dragging [the bodies of the paramilitary troops] in the main bazaar to expose the heads of the beheaded personnel.” The Taliban are said to be wearing Army and Frontier Corps uniforms to conduct clandestine operations.
The military stated it has now recaptured the Kohat Tunnel. “After fierce fighting, the security forces have cleared the area of miscreants and are in control of Kohat tunnel and surrounding areas,” according to a military press release. “Reportedly 24 miscreants have been killed, many have fled leaving behind huge quantity of arms and ammunition.” No casualties were reported among the Pakistani troops.
The Pakistani military launched an operation in South Waziristan on Jan. 24 after Taliban forces commanded by Baitullah Mehsud overran two military outposts and conducted attacks against other forts and military convoys in the agency during the past several weeks. The Pakistani military is claiming great success, with scores of Taliban killed or captured and low casualties on the Pakistani military side. The reporting from South Waziristan has been largely limited to reports from the Inter Service Public Relations (ISPR), the Pakistani military’s public affairs outfit.
“The miscreants have been evicted from Spinkai, Nawakali, Raghzai and Marghaband areas of South Waziristan Agency,” the Associated Press of Pakistan reported based on an ISPR press release. The term “miscreant” is used by the Pakistani military and government to describe foreign fighters, or al Qaeda. “Successful operations of Security Forces against miscreants on Jandola and Kotkai continued for the fourth consecutive day,” the APP continues. “During search operations of various strongholds of miscreants a huge cache of arms, ammunition and prepared suicide jackets have been recovered.”
A sketch map of North and South Waziristan. Blue arrows are Pakistani army movements. Map from The Khyber Gateway. Click to view.
Dawn also reported, based on an ISPR press release, that the military has cleared the Ladha and Nawazkot regions, while infantry, backed by tanks and air support, are striking in Touda Cheena and the Makeen areas. The Daily Times has an unconfirmed report that South Waziristan Taliban commander Qari Hussain was killed in an airstrike in Spinkai.
The government and the Taliban have already begun to conduct peace talks. “Elders of the Mehsud tribe are likely to proceed to Peshawar from Tank on Sunday to hold talks with the NWFP Governor, Owais Ahmad Ghani,” according to Dawn‘s sources. “A 15-member committee was set up in Tank on Saturday to initiate efforts for a ceasefire between the security forces and the militants in South Waziristan.”
Pakistan has conducted numerous negotiations with the Taliban in 2006 and 2007. The South Waziristan Accord ceded control of the agency to the Taliban in April 2006. The peace agreement was followed by the North Waziristan Accord in September 2006, and agreements in Bajaur, Swat, and Mohmand in 2007.
Former Northwest Frontier Province governor Ali Muhammad Jan Orakzai, who resigned in early January 2008, was a backer of holding peace talks with the Taliban. Interior Minister Hamid Nawaz Khan said Orakzai was relieved due to the failure of the Taliban peace negotiations as these agreements led to the spread of the Taliban and al Qaeda in the Northwest Frontier Province and the tribal areas.
See The Fall of the Northwest Frontier Province for the full history of the rise of the Taliban and al Qaeda in Pakistan’s tribal regions and beyond.
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