The Taliban conducted a deadly ambush on a paramilitary convoy in the district of Swat in Pakistan’s violent Northwest Frontier Province. Fifteen troops were killed and six are still missing after a roadside bomb attack and battle in the Kabal region, police told Reuters.
“After the exchange of fire that lasted for several hours, more than 20 troops went missing but today we found 15 dead bodies at the site,” a police officer in Kabal told Reuters. Five Taliban and three civilians were also reported killed in the firefight.
The ambush is the latest in heavy fighting in Swat over the past week. On Oct. 16, four policemen were killed and 16 were wounded after a suicide bomber rammed into a police station in Mangura city. The government responded by pounding a suspected Taliban training camp in the Peochar Valley with airstrikes on Oct. 20. Twenty-five Taliban and 22 civilians were reported killed.
Pakistani forces have been fighting forces aligned with Mullah Fazlullah, a radical cleric of the outlawed Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM – the Movement for the Implementation of Mohammad’s Sharia Law).
The TNSM is known as the “Pakistani Taliban” and is the group behind the ideological inspiration for the Afghan Taliban. The TNSM sent more than 10,000 fighters into Afghanistan to fight US forces during Operation Enduring Freedom in October 2001.
Fazlullah merged with Baitullah Mehsud’s Tehrik-e-Taliban, or the movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, in December 2007.
Fazlullah has successfully organized anti-polio and anti-girls schools campaigns throughout the region. The Swat region has been a safe haven and training ground for the Pakistani Taliban and al Qaeda.
The military began operations to clear the Taliban in Swat and neighboring Shangla in November 2007 after Fazlullah’s forces overran the district. The military claimed it would clear the Taliban from Swat by mid-December 2007.
After a half a year of brutal fighting, the government negotiated a peace accord with Fazlullah in May 2008. Fighting restarted in July 2008. The government said the operation would be completed by September. In a recent briefing to Parliament, a senior Pakistani general admitted Swat and Shangla are under Taliban control.
Hundreds of Pakistani soldiers and policemen have been killed in fighting in Swat since January 2007. The Taliban have destroyed more 125 schools in Swat in the past year.
Swat was once Pakistan’s vacation paradise, rich with golf courses, hiking trails, a ski resort, and archeological sites. The fighting has destroyed Swat’s tourist industry. Fazlullah’s forces have burned down the ski lodge and bombed the lifts.
The military is also fighting a difficult battle in tribal agency of Bajaur, where the Taliban rule. The government refused to take action in the Taliban strongholds of North and South Waziristan, were peace agreements were signed with local Taliban leaders.