Pakistani Taliban spokesman Mullah Omar.
Unconfirmed reports from Pakistan indicate the Taliban spokesman Mullah Omar was killed in an airstrike in the Bajaur tribal agency. The report comes as Pakistan claims a major victory in region that has exchanged hands several times.
Omar, who has been the face of the Taliban, was reported killed during an airstrike in the Badano region in Taliban-control Bajaur, where the military has been fighting to restore the government’s writ since the beginning of August. Omar is believed to have been killed along with 14 Taliban fighters while hiding in a cave.
The Pakistani military and the Taliban have not confirmed Omar’s death. Reports of his death should be treated with skepticism.
There have been numerous reports of senior al Qaeda and Taliban leader killed in US airstrikes and Pakistani military operations this year, but few of them have proven true. Since January 2008, eleven senior al Qaeda and Taliban leaders, including Ayman al Zawahiri, Baitullah Mehsud, and Bajaur’s Faqir Mohammed have been reported to have been killed inside Pakistan. But only three al Qaeda leaders — Abu Laith al Libi, Abu Sulayman Jazairi, and Abu Khabab al Masri — have been confirmed killed. Two leaders — al Qaeda military commander Khalid Habib and Omar — are still unaccounted for.
The Pakistani military claimed Bajaur chieftain Faqir Mohammed and senior al Qaeda leader Mustafa Abu Yazid were killed in military operations. Both Faqir and Yazid later appeared on in the media or on al Qaeda propaganda tapes.
Map of the tribal areas and the Northwest Frontier Province. The government signed peace agreements in the red agencies/ districts (the military said Shangla was under Taliban control in October); purple districts are under de facto Taliban control; yellow regions are under Taliban influence.
Pakistan claims a victory in Bajaur
The report of Faqir’s death occurred the same day that the Pakistani military claimed a major victory in the battle for Bajaur. General Tariq Khan, the Inspector General of the Frontier Corps, claimed more than 1,500 Taliban and foreign fighters have been killed in Bajaur since the operation began in early August. Another 950 “militants,” including more than 300 are Uzbek, Tajik, Nuristani, Afghani and Hazara, have been captured. Tariq also claimed Afghan “officials” were captured during the operation, Geo TV reported.
Pakistani casualties have been light, according to Tariq. Only 42 paramilitary troops have been killed and 174 wounded, according to the general. The Taliban have disputed these numbers in the past and claimed to have killed hundreds of Pakistani troops while taking far fewer casualties.
Tariq also claimed the military was in “complete control” of the strategic town of Loisam, which straddles roads leading to Peshawar and Swat. A Frontier Corps company was routed in Loisam on Aug. 10 after a large Taliban force surrounded and ambushed a 200-man convoy.
But Loisam region has exchanged hands several times since August. The military has claimed to have taken control of Loisam two times since the Bajaur operation began. The military said Loisam was secured early on in Aug. 6, then again made the claim on Sept. 11. “Government forces have established posts in Loisam after resuming control of the area,” Muhammad Iqbal Khan, the Assistant Political Agent of Bajaur said on Sept. 11.
The Pakistani military has relied heavily on artillery barrages and helicopter and air strikes to dislodge Taliban from regions in Bajaur. The civilian population, which is estimated at about one million, has taken a heavy toll during the fighting due to the Pakistani military’s decision to hold back troops while bombing and shelling the Taliban controlled regions. Several thousand civilians are thought to have been killed and more than 200,000 have fled the region.
The fighting in Bajaur not expected to abate any time soon. General Tariq estimated the operation would last for another six to 12 months. Previously the government said the operation would be finished in September.
For more information, see:
Aug. 28, 2008
Sept. 23, 2008
Oct. 5, 2008
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