Pakistan’s inconclusive military operations against the Taliban


Multimedia presentation of the senior Taliban commanders in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Click to view.

The Pakistani military operation in the tribal agency of Khyber is the latest offensive against the Taliban in northwestern Pakistan since the government assaulted the extremist Red Mosque in Islamabad in July 2007.

The offensives against the Taliban have been limited in size and scope. There is no coordinated campaign plan to address the wider problem of Taliban control in northwestern Pakistan. Counterinsurgency is not a consideration. Instead, the districts and tribal agencies are treated as discreet problems. Meanwhile the Taliban reinforce their neighbors and provide sanctuary during the fighting.

With the exception of the action against the Taliban in Swat, the operations have lasted for only several weeks. The fighting has never led to a conclusive outcome.

The military and the government initiate ceasefires and peace agreements just as the fighting intensifies. The Taliban have come out of the fighting in a better position to assert their power as the government and the military is viewed as weak and indecisive.

Below is a list of the major operations fought since July 2007 and the outcomes.

Islamabad, July 2007:

The Pakistani government ordered a siege and subsequent full scale assault on the Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, in Islamabad in July. The mosque and madrassa were run by Taliban-linked extremists Abdul Aziz and Abdul Rasheed Ghazi.

Aziz and Ghazi directed their followers to impose sharia, or Islamic law, in neighborhoods in the heart of Islamabad. Their followers kidnapped policemen and beat those who would not comply with sharia.

More than 100 extremists, including Ghazi, were killed during the attack and several hundred were captured, including Aziz. Eleven Pakistani soldiers were killed.

The assault was perhaps the most decisive action against the Taliban, but the results were short lived. Extremists retook the Lal Masjid just one day after it was reopened. All of those detained, with the exception of Aziz, have been released. Aziz is expected to make bail this year.

North Waziristan, July – August 2007:

Fighting flared in North Waziristan immediate after the assault on the Lal Masjid. Taliban forces ambushed Pakistani military convoys and checkpoints throughout the tribal agency and conducted suicide attacks against military forces.. Nearly 100 Pakistani soldiers were killed and more than 100 wounded during heavy fighting. Dozens of Taliban were also killed during the fighting.

The Pakistani military attempted to hold territory but were repelled and forced to return to garrison. The military then resorted to conducting helicopter and air strikes against Taliban positions. The fighting ebbed in August as it flared in neighboring South Waziristan and the government scrambled to save the North Waziristan peace agreement.

South Waziristan, August – September 2007:

The Taliban conducted its most successful military operation during 2007 in South Waziristan. A small Taliban forces captured a convoy of more than 300 Pakistani soldiers without a shot being fired. The Pakistani government negotiated with Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud to secure their release after several ineffectual clashes. The Taliban paraded the captured soldiers in October.

In mid-Decemebr, a council of 40 senior Taliban leaders established the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan — the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan — and appointed Baitullah its leader.

North Waziristan, October 2007:

The Pakistani military and the Taliban fought pitched battles in North Waziristan during October 2007. The military launched artillery barrages and helicopter and attack aircraft assaults against Taliban controlled villages in North Waziristan. The Taliban responded by setting up complex ambushes, including surface to air missile traps, a senior US military intelligence official told The Long War Journal. Several Pakistani Army helicopters were said to have been shot down during the fighting.

The Pakistani military claimed 120 Taliban and 45 soldiers have been killed in the fighting, but independent reports put the number of soldiers killed much higher.

The government pushed for a peace deal at the end of October and the fighting waned. An official peace agreement was signed in February 2008.

Swat & Shangla, October 2007 – January 2008:

The Pakistani military launched an operation to retake the settled district of Swat after Mullah Fazlullah forces overran police stations and paramilitary outposts. The neighboring district of Shangla was overrun by the Taliban in November. More than 200 policemen and soldiers were killed during fighting in Swat in 2007.

The military said the operation to retake Swat would be over by December 15 and the ski resort would be open for business. The Taliban was driven from Shangla in November and fighting tapered off in Swat in February after the military made some gains. But the government never took full control over the district. The resort was burned down this week, while the government signed a peace agreement with the Taliban in May.

South Waziristan, January – February 2008:

Heavy fighting between the Taliban and the military flared up in late January after the military launched yet another offensive to dislodge the extremists from entrenched positions. Prior to the military’s offensive, the Taliban overran two military forts and conducted numerous attacks against Pakistani forces. More than a dozen of Pakistan’s elite counterterrorism commandos were killed in a single engagement.

The military claimed to eject the Taliban from strongholds in Kotkai and Jandola and said it killed Qari Hussain, a senior Taliban leader who trains suicide bombers. Hussain mocked the government after appearing in a press conference in May. The Taliban recently retook Jandola after murdering dozens from a rival tribe while the military looked on. The military has pulled back to bases on the outskirts of South Waziristan.

Orakzai and Kohat, January 2008:

As fighting was underway in South Waziristan at the end of January, the Taliban launched attacks against government forces in the tribal agency of Orakzai and the neighboring settled district of Kohat.

In Orakzai, Pakistani troops battled Taliban fighters in the city of Darra Adam Khel after the Taliban hijacked a military convoy carrying supplies and ammunition for Pakistani troops. Six soldiers were captured during the hijacking and 14 more were captured during the subsequent fighting. The military halted the offensive after a peace jirga, or committee, requested the suspension of operations. The Taliban subsequently paraded the 14 hostages in a bazaar in Darra Adam Khel.

In Kohat, the Taliban captured the strategic Kohat Tunnel, which links Peshawar to the southern agencies and districts. Forty Frontier Corps troops were captured and eight were “slaughtered” while attempting to regain control of the tower at the peak of the Kohat Tunnel Mountain.

The military retook the tunnel after heavy fighting. The Taliban damaged the tunnel while attempting to it blow up during the retreat.

After the fighting, the Taliban have been collecting taxes from drivers on the road. The government is currently negotiating a peace agreement with the Taliban in Kohat.

Khyber, June 2008: The military launched an operation to clear Khyber after the Taliban began to threatened the provincial capital of Peshawar.

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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  • Batman says:

    Where does the Taliban get its funding and weapons? Is the heroin enough to fund this significant level of operations, or are they getting state sponsorship? How can they be that hard to crack?

  • Batman says:

    I mean, I understand asymmetric, hit and run attacks, but they are openly taking territory in the face of the government.

  • Alex says:

    Probably some funding from abroad as well from Saudis, all through shady banks in Cyprus and the Cayman Islands

  • The present Khyber offensive is in response to americans providing 4 F 16s and another 4 F 16s in pipleline and also promise to beef up the karachi stock index as the Indians dither on 123 agreement.who bothers for innocents?

  • Libertarian says:

    Could the regional experts who contribute to the postings name one major military campaign the Pakistani Military has won since its inception? Yes, the Pakistanis have been or were effective in sponsoring terrorism in Afghanistan and India and tyranny at home but so far, at least, they have been ineffective in combating terrorism on their on soil. Maybe the Pakistanis no longer regard the Northwest as their country …..
    Doubtless the Pakistani soldier is brave and disciplined: that is not the issue;
    my question is about the quality of Pakistani generalship and the depth of political commitment to freedom

  • Private Finch says:

    The feeling I get about the Paki army is they are completely fragmented by various splinter groups. They have many members who are ‘agents in place;’ ready to inform on or cripple any expected action.
    I agree with Libertarian; name one successful large scale operation the Paki army has had. I think they are too weak and corrupt to have a major operation. Time for India to clean the Paki house.

  • NS says:

    “The feeling I get about the Paki army is they are completely fragmented by various splinter groups. They have many members who are ‘agents in place;’ ready to inform on or cripple any expected action. ”
    The situation is a little worse than that. It is pretty obvious that morale in the paki army is low, but there is a reason for it -they dont see this as a war on terrorists – they see it as a war on their islamic brethren. Nothing is going to change that. I came across a recent poll that had 60% of pakistanis supporting talks with the Taliban. Now thats 60% of the people not in the NWFP !!
    You cannot have a counterinsurgency where the locals dont co-operate with you. Gen.Petraeus has successfully demonstrated that in Iraq. Even with the local co-operation in Iraq, the peace is very fragile and requires real hard work to maintain it that way.
    Here we are talking about how locals in the NWFP have for the most part rooted for the Taliban – it does not matter what the pakistani army do as much as what the pakistani civilian population does.
    Nothing really is going to change the fundamentals of this conflict unless the locals can take up the fight – just like the Sunnis and Shias had their awakening in Iraq, the local pakis have to wake up. But this is where the big difference between Iraq and Pakistan comes in – Iraq for all its sectarian conflicts is fundamentally more secular society.
    pakistan on the other hand was created on the basis of religious fundamentalism – this one fact will bedevil the country for ever.


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