The Pakistani military claimed 70 Taliban fighters were killed and 60 were wounded during the latest round of fighting in the lawless tribal agency of Bajaur.
The fighting began in the Loisam region in Bajaur after a large Taliban force attacked a Pakistani convoy. The military responded by pounding Taliban positions with Cobra helicopter gunships, attack aircraft, and artillery fire.
The Taliban have not disputed the casualties, but claimed Pakistani security forces were bloodied as well. Taliban spokesman Mullah Omar said 16 Pakistani troops were killed and 24 more were captured during the fighting.
Omar also claimed a force of 80 Pakistani troops is currently under siege in Loisam. Seven other Pakistani troops were reported killed during clashes in Bajaur along the Afghan border.
Taliban forces also murdered three “US spies” in Bajaur. Two men were beheaded and one was shot. “These people were spying on Taliban,” a note pinned to the bodies said. The Taliban have executed hundreds of purported spies in the tribal agencies. These men and women are usually tribal elders opposed to the Talibanization of the region.
The fighting in Bajaur began on Aug. 6 after government forces moved to occupy the Loisam region in Bajaur, which is under Taliban control. Twenty-five Taliban fighters were reported killed in the fighting.
The military was rumored to be moving against the Taliban in Bajaur earlier in the week. Reports indicate more Pakistani forces are being to sent Bajaur as well as the neighboring districts of Malakand and Dir, as well as the Mohmand tribal agency.
The Bajaur tribal agency is al Qaeda’s command and control hub for operations across the border in northeastern Afghanistan. Bajaur is run by Faqir Mohammed, who assumed control of the radical Tehrik Nifaz-e-Sharia Mohammadi (the TNSM, or the Movement for the Implementation of Mohammad’s Sharia Law) after the arrest of Sufi Mohammed.
The TNSM is known as the “Pakistani Taliban” and is the group behind the ideological inspiration for the Afghan Taliban. The TNSM sent over 10,000 fighters into Afghanistan to fight US forces during the opening stages of Operation Enduring Freedom in late 2001 and 2002. Sufi was jailed by the Pakistani government after the TNSM was banned. He was later released as part of a peace deal in May 2008.
Faqir has close links with the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban, as well as senior al Qaeda leaders. He is believed to shelter senior al Qaeda leaders such as Ayman al Zawahiri. The US has conducted at least two airstrikes against safe houses and camps run by Faqir since January 2006.
In December 2007 Faqir rolled the TNSM under the banner of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, which is led by South Waziristan Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud. Faqir is also second in command of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan.
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