Swat fighting as deadly as Iraqi insurgency

Map of Swat. Click map to view.

More than two months after the Pakistani military launched an operation to clear the district of Swat in the Northwest Frontier Province, pockets of Taliban forces and safe havens remain. The Pakistani military and police have taken casualties comparable to the combined US and Iraqi forces have fighting the insurgency in Iraq, according to an Interior Ministry report obtained by the Daily Times.

Military and police casualties in Swat comparable to Iraq over past year

The most telling information from the Interior Ministry’s status report on Swat is the casualty data. The Pakistani security forces operating in the small district lost 195 soldiers, policemen, and Frontier Constabulary paramilitaries over the past year.

The Pakistani military has been keen to report the killing or capturing of Taliban forces in Swat, but has withheld data on military and police casualties. While hundreds of Taliban were reported killed or captured, only a fraction of the security forces casualties were reported.

The Taliban insurgency in Swat is as dangerous as the Iraqi insurgency at this point in time. The Iraqi security forces and the US military lost 2,840 soldiers and police in Iraq from between January 2007 through 2008, compared to 195 in Swat. Taking into account Swat’s size and population compared with Iraq – 684 square miles and a population of 1.5 million compared to Iraq’s 169,234 square miles and nearly 27 million – the insurgency in Swat extremely dangerous. Adjusting for population, the rate of casualties is higher in Swat than in Iraq.

These numbers do not include data from the South Waziristan and Orakzai tribal agencies, where Pakistani troops are currently fighting the Taliban in active, open battles, as well as South Waziristan, Tank, Bannu, Bajuar, where numerous attacks occur on a daily basis. Factoring the South Waziristan and Orakzai numbers, as well as the attacks against police, paramilitaries, and soldiers throughout Pakistan, and the Taliban insurgency is very likely the hottest conflict in the Long War.

Swat’s safe havens

The Taliban still maintain four “major” safe havens and 14 “small hideouts,” in Swat, the Interior Ministry report stated. “The majority of militants were hiding in Kabal, Khawanza Khola, Matta, and Minogra,” the Daily Times reported. The Taliban are also sheltering in “14 valley suburbs” in Totano Bandi, Bagh Dehrai, Manja, Salanda, Sarkhorai, Manosar, Guli Bagh, Shakardara, Sambat, Namal Gat, Shawar, Pewchar, Chupriyal, and Manglawar.

While the military classified Kabal, Khawanza Khola, and Matta as cleared on Dec. 3, 2007, these areas are stilled considered “remaining militant hideouts.” The Pakistani military claimed Swat would be cleared and its resorts would be reopened by Dec. 15, 2007.

The neighboring district of Shangla, which was overrun by the Taliban on Nov. 14, 2007, was “secured and reoccupied” on Nov. 29, according to the report.

Swat is only part of the problem

Map of the northern regions of the NWFP, including Swat.

The Pakistani government and military hope to regain control of Swat by continuing military operations, establishing local security forces, providing services, and strengthening the justice system, according to the Interior Ministry report. But while Pakistani security forces focused on Swat during the past two months, adjacent districts and tribal agencies in the North remain under the sway of the Taliban. The Taliban remain strong in the districts of Dir, Chitral, Kohistan, Malakand, and Buner. In order for the Pakistani Army to move forces through Malakand, it had to impose a curfew in the district.

The Bajaur tribal agency remains a stronghold of Faqir Mohammed, the 28-year-old radical leader of the local al Qaeda-linked and outlawed Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM – the Movement for the Implementation of Mohammad’s Sharia Law). Faqir has close connections to al Qaeda’s Ayman al Zawahiri. Bajaur is an al Qaeda command and control node for operations across the border in eastern Afghanistan. The TNSM is also referred to as “the Pakistani Taliban.” This banned terror group sent over 10,000 of its fighters into Afghanistan to fight US forces in 2001 and 2002 before the fall of the Taliban.

The Pakistani military has failed to capture the leader of the Swat insurgency. Swat TNSM leader Maulana Fazlullah has so far eluded the Pakistani security forces and routinely broadcasts on his illegal FM radio channel to incite violence. While many of Fazlullah’s aides have been captured, the military has begun to release some of his lieutenants. Eight of Fazlullah’s deputies were freed on bail on Feb. 2.

The release of Fazlullah’s aides indicates the government may be looking for a political settlement. At the onset of the Swat offensive, the Pakistani government released Sufi Mohammed, the ideological leader of the TNSM in the Northwest Frontier Province, and promised it would allow for the imposition of sharia law. Sufi’s release was endorsed by General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the Director General of military operations in the region. “Shuja calls [Sufi’s release] part of the ‘political effort’ needed to accompany the military campaign,” Time reported in November 2007. “Brute use of force alone would only take us backwards,” said Shuja. The release of Sufi and the declaration of sharia were two of Fazlullah’s demands to end attacks against the government.

Pakistani government reacting to the Taliban in the Northwest Frontier Province

The military is currently fighting on three active fronts in the Northwest Frontier Province: South Waziristan in the South, Orakzai in the Center, and Swat in the North. The fighting in Swat, South Waziristan and Orakzai has been initiated by the Taliban after they attacked military and government facilities and took open control of territory. The Taliban have been reported to have plans to launch an offensive against Peshawar in the spring of 2008.

Without a comprehensive plan to address the rise of the Taliban and extremism in the Northwest Frontier Province, the recent military gains in Swat may be short lived. As repeated peace agreements in North and South Waziristan, Swat, Bajaur, and Mohmand demonstrate, cutting deals with the Taliban only gives them the time and space to consolidate their control and expand outward.

Correction: This article initially stated the Pakistani security forces encountered 195 casualties in January 2008. The numbers were actually from January 2007 through January 2008. The number of security forces killed in Swat is still comparable to the number of US and Iraqi forces killed in the insurgency when adjusting for population.

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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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15 Comments

  • Marlin says:

    Terrorists are exfiltrating out of the Swat district and causing problems elsewhere. In this particular instance they instigated violence in the Mardan district due south of Swat.

    MARDAN, Feb 2: An eight-hour gunbattle between police and militants barricaded in a house left two policemen, two militants and a hostage dead in a village near here on Saturday.
    Police laid siege to the house in Palo Dheri village after being tipped off that militants were holed up there.
    The police asked them to turn themselves in, but the militants responded with a volley of shots.
    A reply by the law enforcers led to a sustained exchange of gunfire, during which the militants occupied another house in the neighbourhood, making the family hostage.
    Police said the militants used the hostage women and children as human shield.
    […]
    Assault rifles and hand grenades were used during the fierce fighting, police said. NWFP police chief Sharif Ahmed Virk told Dawn that the militants had sneaked into the area from Swat.

    Dawn: Eight-hour battle leaves two cops, 2 militants dead

  • KW64 says:

    It is hard to imagine any of the major parties in Pakistan advocating the abandonment of Peshawar by the Pakistani army. Surely such a move to take it could tend to unite the fractious Pakistani political elements against them.
    One has to wonder if their strategy would be to cut off American supply routes and what kind of response such a threat would draw from political types in the US.

  • Rob says:

    I have been to Swat and it is very much mountain
    country. It is ideal for the Taliban, but if the
    locals want them out of there and the Pak
    army persists they should be successful.
    With effort the Pakistanis and Afghans should
    be able to keep the road between Kabul and
    Peshawar open. But because it passes through
    such extreme mountains it is dangerous.
    What is interesting is that the Americans have
    built a base close to the border and the Chitral
    area where Osama is may be is pinched between
    that and Swat. That may be the reason the Taliban
    has been so aggressive.

  • LDG says:

    Thank you once again for some of the best public writing out there on this War, and glad to see you (Bill Roggio) appearing more at WorldWide Standard.
    *For the Attention of the Author:
    “Taking into account Swat’s size and population compared with Iraq – 684 square miles and a population of 1.5 million compared to Iraq’s 169,234 square miles and nearly 27 million- ”
    A quick scan with the Mk I Eyeball of the Swat map shows about 200 km N-S and an average of about 50 km E-W… Forgive me if I err, but that gives me a land area of ~3600 sqmiles after conversion of measure.
    Granted, the point is made (1.5 million people in a rather small district with awesome terrain) but this is probably worth a quick recheck.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    LDG,
    I could not find the data easily anywhere else, and had to rely on Wikipedia for the data:
    //en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swat_(Pakistan)

  • reliapundit says:

    thanks for this.
    BTW: Most Amwericans – and BLOGGERS EVEN! – don;lt realize how mush Nusharraf is doing: he has 100,000 troops deployed on his front in the GWOT.
    He is a good ally.
    Pakistan is a flawed alky, but doing a great deal to fight and kill the enemy.
    The Dems and the MSM seem intent on knocking him and promoting Khan and Sharif – who are immeasurably WORSE.

  • LDG says:

    Reasonable choice given the lack of a sure source.
    For reference, here is the map I used:
    //www.mofa.gov.pk/Maps/Pak_Map.jpg

  • Swat was allowed to be taken and pakistan army retakes it.Shingla and then Pakistan army retakes it.South wazirstan and then pakistan army retakes it.so Musharaff is the greatest ally by keeping 10,0000 troops to do a job of fooling the americans.Then why Afghanies are crying fowl?People must read again the REASON GIVEN by Musharaff for joining the americans.Also Americans must understand the RACISM of jehadies.difference between Arabs,uzbeks and ordinary pakistanies andn kashmiries. Who comes top in the pecking order?Even in United pakistan Punjabies,pathans come on top compared to Balochs,sindhies,bengalies,mujahirs,kahsmiries etc.Americans cannot understand racism in south asian society.

  • SamD says:

    I don’t dispute the casualty figures, although the statistics that I would believe more relavent would be the number of hostile actions or wounded AND KIA soldiers.
    Our military is afforded the best available training, protection, medical evacuation, and treatment on earth…We enjoy the advantages of 24/7 aerial recon and air/fire support. Wounded soldiers have >90% survival rate. It’s certainly a possibility that we’re just getting better at doing the job!
    While I don’t doubt that this region is indeed a high priority (and a dangerous, unenviable mission), one month’s worth of statistics don’t convince me that it’s any worse than the contested areas of Iraq.

  • Raj Kumar says:

    Very Sorry to disagree with you reliapundit. Musharaff is doing nothing of the sort. He is simply stringing the US till along till such point as the US loses interest in that part of the world.
    My response to 100,000 being deployed is that to take that figure with a very large pich of salt and even if its true then this is the least I would have expected from a country which is being paid close to $2bn every year for services provided.
    Pakistan is the central training ground for the International Islamic Front. It’s government and by extension its people have actively assisted in the creation of this monster for the past 30 years and we are all now paying the price for this.
    The great majority of the acts of Islamic terror in the world today has a link back to Pakistan and this is not slowing if anything it is actually speeding up and my concern is that now matter what we do downstream one or two of these operations will bear fruit and we in the west will pay an awful price for our indulgence of the Pakistani regime.

  • anonymous says:

    When I clicked on the link from Instapundit and first saw the headline, “Swat Fighting More Deadly Than Iraqi Insurgency,” I thought Glenn had mistakenly linked to another Radely Balko piece. And for a few seconds, until I read that it was a reference to a district called Swat in Pakistan, it was plausible that SWAT raids really are more deadly than the Iraqi insurgents, given the success of the surge in Iraq vs. the number of horror stories that Mr. Balko has uncovered over the years. That’s a sad commentary on the current state of affairs.

  • Rhyno327/lrsd says:

    Musharraff a GOOD ally? Yeah, he’s good for taking $10BILLION the US gave him to fight those islamofacists, which until recently he has NOT done. He also ceded some of the tribal territories to AQ/T-ban, and he is complicit in the assasination of Benazir Bhutto. As was written on some of these pages, the US does not give the p-stani gov. advance warning of raids and takedowns, KNOWING there are rats among the p-stani army and ISI. The only way to bring peace to a-stan is to smash the radicals where they sleep. Destroy the 30 or so camps, and withold ALL money and base it on deeds, not words. Enough is enough.

  • Henrik Krog says:

    If you read the report, it says the casualties are from the period between 1 january 2007 and 23 january 2008 – ie not in the space of one month, but thirteen.
    Henrik

  • SamD says:

    Good catch Henrik –
    The US Military suffered 941 KIA and 6100 WIA in the same time frame.
    Iraqi Army and Security forces – over 1500 KIA.
    (globalsecurity and icasualties.org)
    The statement, “The Pakistani military and police have taken casualties far greater the combined US and Iraqi forces have fighting the insurgency in Iraq” is false by a vast margin. The headline – while I’m sure unintented as such – is misleading.
    A much more appropriate comparison would be the Swat and the Diyala Province (6800 sq mi / Pop of 1.27 million), home to 128 US (not including Iraqi ISF) casualties in the same time frame.
    Although I agree the region IS important and dangerous, I thought it was necessary to offer some persepctive – The stats don’t back up the claim.
    -Sam

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Henrik, Sam, you are correct. I have corrected the entry accordingly and noted the correction. Thank you for setting this straight.
    When adjusting for population, the ratios still show the insurgency fought in Swat is as dangerous as Iraq (the Diyala comparison is good too, as this has been the most violent province in Iraq when adjusted for population.) Keep in mind that the Pakistani casualties do not reflect casualties in the rest of the triba agencies and districts in the NWFP, or throughout Pakistan. Nor does it reflect the incidents such as kidnapping companies of troops, overrunning forts, suicide attacks, beheadings, etc.
    Again thanks for the catch. The readers are often our best editors and this is an excellent example of it.

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