Afghan troops clash with the Taliban on the border

The Afghan Army clashed with the Taliban in the Pakistani tribal agency of Mohmand on June 10. While initial reports indicated the US conducted a targeted airstrike against a Taliban or al Qaeda leadership target in the tribal agency, the aircraft appear to have been supporting Afghan troops during the clash with the Taliban. Conflicting reports fault the clash for killing Pakistani soldiers at a nearby Army outpost.

The fighting started after Afghan forces attacked a Taliban force as it attempted to cross the border. Between 10 and 13 Pakistani soldiers were killed after Afghan and US forces pursued Taliban forces fleeing into Pakistan.

“The militants launched a cross-border attack into Afghanistan,” an unnamed Pakistani security official told Reuters. “At least 10 of our soldiers were killed in a counter-offensive by forces in Afghanistan.” Geo TV reported 13 Pakistani soldiers, including a major, were killed. An estimated 50 Pakistani soldiers were manning an outpost in Suran Dara along the Afghan-Pakistani frontier. The region borders Afghanstan’s Kunar province.

Mullah Omar, a spokesman for the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, said the fighting occurred after US and Afghan forces attacked Taliban positions inside Mohmand. Omar stated that Pakistani troops were not deployed in the region.

The Pakistani military’s public relations department initially denied Afghan and Pakistani troops clashed in Mohmand. Major General Athar Abbas, the chief spokesman for the Pakistani military, said Afghan troops crossed the border to establish a checkpoint in the area. But the Pakistani military later “condemned this completely unprovoked and cowardly act on the (military) post and regretted the loss of precious lives of our soldiers.”

All of the reports indicated NATO aircraft were involved in the fighting. The initial reports of a possible US airstrike sparked speculation the US conducted another targeted attack on senior al Qaeda or Taliban leaders in Pakistan’s tribal areas. But it appears the US warplanes were backing Afghan forces during the fighting on the frontier.

The US has conducted four known strikes inside Pakistan’s tribal areas this year. Senior al Qaeda leader Abu Laith al Libi was killed in a strike in North Waziristan, and external operations chief Abu Sulayman Jazairi was killed in an attack in Bajaur. The US military also targeted a compound run by senior Taliban leader Siraj Haqqani in North Waziristan and a complex owned by Noorullah Wazir, a Pakistani tribal elder in South Waziristan.

Omar Khalid, the Taliban commander of Mohmand agency.

Background on the Taliban in Mohmand

The local Taliban in the Mohmand tribal agency is led by Omar Khalid. His involvement with terrorism stretches back at least a decade. He was a member of the Harakat-ul-Mujahideen, a banned terrorist group that conducts attacks in Kashmir.

Khalid trained in terror camps in Kashmir and fought Indian forces. After fighting in Kashmir, Khalid maintained close links with the Kashmiri terror outfits while supporting the Taliban cause in Afghanistan. Immediately after the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, Khalid took hundreds of fighters across the border to fight US forces.

Khalid claims to have 3,000 armed and trained fighters under his command. In July 2007, Khalid’s forces seized a historic mosque and shrine in the Mohmand tribal agency and renamed it the Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, after the Taliban mosque in Islamabad that was assaulted by the government in mid-July.

Last Summer, Khalid denied links with the Taliban and al Qaeda even as he pledged allegiance to Red Mosque leader Ghazi Abdur Rashid. “If [the Taliban] come to us, we will welcome them,” said Khalid. “We will continue Ghazi Abdur Rashid’s mission even if it means sacrificing our lives.” Khalid also threatened to “use suicide bombers in self defense” if the new Red Mosque was raided. He seeks to “Islamize” the local tribes and plans establishing a “vice and virtue force” to enforce sharia, or Islamic law.

But Khalid has since joined the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, the umbrella Taliban organization led by Baitullah Mehsud that united movements in the tribal areas and the settled districts of the Northwest Frontier Province. Khalid is the Taliban’s representative for Mohmand agency. The Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan has repeatedly stated that the series of peace agreements signed with the Pakistani government will not prevent them from conducting attacks against NATO and Afghan forces inside Afghanistan.

The Pakistani government signed a peace agreement with Khalid’s Taliban in Mohmand on May 28.

See Report: US strikes inside Mohmand tribal agency for early reports on the US airstrike and background information on recent US targeted strikes against senior al Qaeda and Taliban operatives in Pakistan.

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

  • Rhyno327/lrsd says:

    There are conflicting reports about this incident. Newsweek said US/ANA forces were setting up an OP on the disputed border, and were attacked by militants aided by p-stani frontier corps. This sounds believable, since the Frontier Corps are a corrupt bunch that have no intention of stopping incursions. Looks like they got a good dose of HE, and they probably deserved it. Read the RAND Co. report on the insurgency in A-stan. Unless thier sanctuaries are destroyed, this will continue. US military knows it, but who will have the guts to give the green light? P-stan’s Army Corps commanders have the real power. How many are T-ban/AQ sympathizers? If you want something done, do it yourself. P-stan takes our money, throws us a bone or two, but the tribal areas are swarming with jihadi’s and thier camps. Something’s gotta give sooner or later.

  • KW64 says:

    MSNBC reports (lousy source I know) that tribesmen say the Pakistani Army opened fire on the Afghan soldiers. The Pak army denies it and says it was an unprovoked attack by the NATO airstrike. They say they told the Afghan Army unit to leave becuse they were in Pakistan. A number of Afghan army casualties taken. It is no wonder they called for air support.
    Details on the incident are certainly unresolved but it looks like the Pakstani Army on the border must be allowing Taliban to move in and out freely but screening any pursuit of them. Not a happy situation with Afghan and Coalition forces moving to the border areas to prevent Taliban incursions. Conflicts are almost bound to occur.

  • Red Howard says:

    KW64: good para two.

  • Dustin says:

    Voices of America reported that the Pakistani Army personel killed were “para military.” That with Tehrik-e-Taliban spokesman saying that the Pakistani military isn’t deployed there. What’s going on here, this whole thing just smells really strange.

  • mjr007 says:

    [Posted by Dustin at June 11, 2008 1:47 PM ET:
    Voices of America reported that the Pakistani Army personel killed were “para military.” That with Tehrik-e-Taliban spokesman saying that the Pakistani military isn’t deployed there. What’s going on here, this whole thing just smells really strange.]
    Dustin,
    You have a disputed border in a craggy mountainous region with para-military engaging a defacto military/government in the Taliban. What’s not to understand?

  • stickety says:

    It sounds like the Pakistani military was either neglecting its responsibility to prevent Taliban incursions into Afghanistan or was actively aiding these militants.
    Either way, the Pakistani government can take their outrage and stuff it. I’m rather outraged that our country is sending hundreds of millions of dollars of aid to a country that is providing shelter for Al-Qaeda.

  • I thought this might be the area where the Pakis have been moving their border posts farther and farther into Afghanistan over the last year or so. A little push back by the Afghans?

  • Freedom Now says:

    The same thing that happened in Basra happened in the Pakistani tribal regions.
    In Basra the local police force became infilitrated by the militias. When the British withdrew the elements loyal to the government in the police force became completely vulnerable.
    The Pakistani paramilitaries are composed of locals from the tribal regions. They have become vulnerable to insurgent infilitration because the Pakistani government cannot protect those loyal to the government.
    Pakistan should look to Ramadi 2006 for the answer to this problem. Send them Col. MacFarland.

  • NS says:

    Saaq,
    Thanks for giving us the paki propoganda line that is so desperately needed to balance out fair reporting.
    I’d like to know why exactly the Afghans and Pakis are such “bitter enemies” in the first place.
    May be the Afghans cannot tolerate any more of this nonsense from pakistan – where the paki army provides cover for the taliban terrorists to cross into afghan territory – and then they act all surprised and offended when the Afghans did the right thing by pushing back.
    More US airstrikes are needed against pakistani army regulars – they have been running this play from their kashmir terrorism days when they allowed terrorists trained in pakistan to inflitrate into kashmir and provided cover for them by engaging the Indian armed forces who were trying to prevent the terrorists from crossing the border.
    A clear zero tolerance for terrorism message is needed – and if this involves killing pakistani army regulars who are supporting the talibani terrorists then so be it.

  • Rosario says:

    Bill,
    A detailed account from the International “The News” has a very detailed account from the Pakistani side:
    //thenews.jang.com.pk/top_story_detail.asp?Id=15303
    It sounds like our troopers where caught in a crossfire between two taliban groups, one just inside Afganistan, the other at the Pakistan border. The Pakistani border patrol had to be assisting the taliban, even firing on our troops!

  • Euro 2.0 says:

    Defense Department officials called a U.S. air strike yesterday in Pakistan near the Afghanistan border “legitimate”

  • JB says:

    Rhyno327: Yes, and just a little while ago, the US was rather actively helping to build up the Frontier Corps as a key component of the counterinsurgency effort. Your comment really brings home how effective the RAND report has been in hardening up the general stance towards Pakistan in the WoT.

  • tom says:

    The Paki’s have been playing this game for a while. Pretending to be a friend, but playing both sides. They do not have the fortitude to make a decision one way or the other.
    They need to remember what Condi told them prior to going into A-stan. Cooperate, or you’ll be bombed back to the stone age (which isn’t really that far for them). The carrot was forgiveness of 5 Billion in debt. which they promptly took.
    Don’t kid yourselves. We knew exactly what was happening and who it was. It was a message.

  • 3dc says:

    video is at liveleak.com
    Look for the real one with the blue declassification opening screen.

  • Tyrone says:

    Attacking Pakistani forces who were simply manning a checkpoint obviously makes no sense and I am certain the coalition did not knowingly do so.
    But attacking the Taliban who are crossing the border to attack Afghanistan seems like an appropriate response. The exact facts for the current fighting may never be known, but I feel sure Pakistani soldiers were not attacked on purpose and without provocation. If they were firing on coalition forces and/or partnering with the Taliban who were doing the firing … well suppressing fire upon your position is one of the basic things you do in war. In that case it would seem that the Pakistani forces were either in the wrong place at the wrong time and a very unfortunate mistake took place, or they under the sway of the Taliban, or collaborating with the Taliban in attacking coalition forces and thus targeted along with the Taliban.

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