Thirty two Taliban fighters have been reported killed during the latest round of fighting in the extremist-controlled Pakistani tribal agency of Bajaur. The Pakistani military speculated that Faqir Mohammed, the Taliban emir, or leader in Bajaur and the deputy leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, was killed in the fighting.
Faqir is thought to have been killed or wounded while riding in a convoy that was transporting explosives near the town of Khar. Pakistani Army Cobra helicopter gunships targeted the convoy and killed between 10 and 12 Taliban fighters. The Pakistani military could not confirm his death, while Taliban spokesman Mullah Omar denied Faqir was killed.
“We are receiving conflicting reports in this regard,” said Pakistani military spokesman Major Murad in an interview with The Post. “Some say the commander is dead while the other are saying that he is injured. But I cannot say anything of sure in this regard.”
Twenty-two Taliban were reported killed in a separate attack after helicopter gunships struck a madrassa run by Mullah Munir. The Pakistani military appears to be relying on air and artillery strikes to target the Taliban after a large convoy of Frontier Corps paramilitaries were ambushed and routed earlier this week.
The fighting in Bajaur has been intense since it began on Aug. 7 after government forces moved to occupy the Loisam region. A large Taliban force surrounded and ambushed a 200-man convoy of Frontier Corps forces moving into the region.
Heavy fighting broke out after the Frontier Corps troops attempted to break the encirclement. Pakistani aircraft, helicopters, and artillery joined the fray, reportedly causing heavy casualties among the large Taliban force, estimated at several hundred fighters.
Map of the tribal areas and the Northwest Frontier Province. Hangu is the latest district to fall under Taliban control. The government signed peace agreements in the red agencies/ districts; purple districts are under de facto Taliban control; yellow regions are under Taliban influence.
The Frontier Corps retreated from the Loisam region in the Bajaur tribal after heavy fighting. More than 60 paramilitary soldiers were reported killed and another 55 were reported captured. The military claimed more than 100 Taliban fighters were killed. The reports of killed and captured Taliban fighters and paramilitary forces could not be confirmed. More than 135,000 civilians are estimated to have fled the fighting.
The Pakistani government claimed the operation in Bajaur is targeting “foreign militants, including Uzbeks, Chechens and Arabs” and not Pakistani tribesmen or Taliban forces, Daily Times reported. On Aug. 12, anonymous Pakistan sources claimed Mustafa Abu Yazid, al Qaeda’s commander in Afghanistan, was killed during helicopter strikes in Bajaur. Yazid’s death has not been confirmed.
The Bajaur tribal agency is al Qaeda’s command and control hub for operations across the border in northeastern Afghanistan. Faqir Mohammed administers the tribal agency for the Taliban. He assumed control of the radical Tehrik Nifaz-e-Sharia Mohammadi (the TNSM, or the Movement for the Implementation of Mohammad’s Sharia Law) in Bajaur 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 after receiving intelligence senior al Qaeda leaders, including Zawahiri and Abu Khabab al Masri, were present.
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 was appointed second in command of the Taliban in Pakistan.
Al Qaeda, the Taliban and allied terrorist movements currently operate 157 training camps and more than 400 support facilities in the tribal areas and the Northwest Frontier Province, US intelligence officials told .
For background on the recent fighting in Bajaur, see:
• Pakistani forces clash with Taliban in Bajaur, Aug. 7, 2008
• Fighting escalates in Pakistan’s Bajaur tribal agency, Aug. 9, 2008
• Pakistani troops retreat after Taliban onslaught in Bajaur, Aug. 10, 2008
• Al Qaeda’s commander in Afghanistan rumored killed in Pakistan, Aug. 12, 2008