Pakistani military continues to withdraw from the tribal areas


A Pakistani Army soldier sits on an armored vehicle as he patrols in Matta in Swat, where the Taliban has effectively taken control of the settled district and neighboring Shangla. AP photo.

The Pakistani military continues to withdraw forces from the troubled Northwest Frontier Province and the adjacent tribal areas. Another division is believed to be leaving the region to return to the eastern frontier and bolster Pakistani forces facing India during rising tensions over last month’s terror attack in Mumbai.

Witnesses in Pakistan’s tribal agencies of Bajaur, Mohmand, and North and South Waziristan said large, heavily armed columns have been leaving the region, The News reported. A 200-truck convoy with accompanying artillery and tanks was seen withdrawing from the town of Miramshah in North Waziristan.

Hundreds of soldiers were seen leaving the military base at Ramzak in North Waziristan. Ramzak borders South Waziristan. Operations against Baitullah Mehsud’s forces in early 2008 were launched from Ramzak. Other witnesses said more than 20 military trucks left Ghalanai, the main town in Mohmand.

The Pakistani military began moving troops from the insurgency-riddled Northwest Frontier Province on Dec. 26. The 14th Division began withdrawing from the Bajaur-Dir region and was moved back to its assigned area of operations in the Bahawalpur region in southeastern Punjab province. The 14th Division was one of two divisions assigned to reinforce the counterinsurgency operation in Bajaur.

A second Pakistani Army division is expected to be pulling out of the northwest. The headquarters element of the 23rd Division along with the attached brigade is thought to be moving out of the Northwest Frontier Province, according to Ravi Rikhye, the editor of

Pakistan may remove most of the units assigned to reinforce the Northwest Frontier Province, Rikhye told The Long War Journal. An estimated 14 to 15 brigades were assigned to Pakistan’s northwest as the Taliban insurgency grew over the past several years; this number may be reduced to five brigades.

“We are approaching the point where two-thirds of the reinforcements sent west are in the process of withdrawing,” Rikhye said.

Pakistan’s redeployment of troops is strictly a defensive move, according to Rikhye and several US officials. The Pakistani military basically stripped the eastern front of units over the course of the past several years to bolster its forces in the northwest.

The move is designed to counter a feared Indian strike, a senior US military intelligence official told The Long War Journal. “The Pakistanis are terrified the Indians may launch an attack, and have to reinforce [their] eastern front,” the official said. “What they are doing is prudent from a military perspective, but it is raising alarm bells in India and in the West.”

The Pakistani military has built a complex system of fixed defensive positions to blunt an Indian attack, Rikhye said. “The essence of Pakistan’s defense strategy is to man several lines of very extensive fortifications, usually built on their irrigation canals,” he told The Long War Journal. Canals have been built to prevent amphibious assault vehicles from crossing, and the military can flood the canals as well as plains to slow down an armored attack.

“These canal defenses are combined with extensive earthworks, pill boxes, minefields, etc.” Rikhye said. “It’s not easy to get through these defenses,” he noted, explaining that one armored and one infantry brigade held off eight strike brigades from the Indian Army in the Shkaergarh salient during the 1971 war.

The deployment of forces to the northwest has compromised the effectiveness of the defensive positions. “If the defenses are not manned then they’re no use,” Rikhye said. “That’s why the Pakistani infantry has to come back from the NWFP [Northwest Frontier Province]. It is completely expected for them [the Pakistani Army] to man their defenses at this time, and that they do not want to be in the NWFP [fighting the Taliban] is perfect.”

The regular Pakistani Army has not aggressively fought the Taliban in the northwest. The task has been left to the poorly armed and trained paramilitary Frontier Corps. Occasionally, as in the case of the Bajaur offensive in the Loisam region this fall, or the offensive in South Waziristan in January, a Pakistani unit is assigned to combat duty. But the regular Army largely sits in garrison while the Taliban consolidate power in the region.

For more information on recent Pakistani troop movements, see:

Pakistan deploys troops from tribal areas to the Indian border

Dec. 26, 2008

Taliban consolidate control in Arakzai tribal agency

Dec. 28, 2008

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.



  • Mr T says:

    “and that they do not want to be in the NWFP [fighting the Taliban] is perfect.”
    They weren’t fighting the Taliban anyway. 15 Brigades and yet the Taliban grew absurdly out of control in the NWFP. How could you have that many “troops” in the area and yet AQ and the Taliban seemed to do whatever they wanted to do.
    Ridiculous. Maybe this will open up the area for our own troops. Problem now is how would we supply them?
    Maybe we will find out that Pakistan doesn’t have the troops to fight on 2 fronts either. Fighting India on one side and the NATO coalition on the other while their economy is in shambles.
    Doesn’t sound like a good plan to me but these guys have alterior motives anyway. They don’t seem to think logically. Maybe they are crazy like a fox or maybe they are just plain dumb and don’t see the consequences of their actions, or don’t care. Maybe martyrdom is their ultimate goal.

  • Your Momma says:

    As the taliban and other groups take over more and more land and people, what happens to the revenue that would normally flow to the Pakistani government? Isn’t the government losing a big chunk of change in taxes, fees, etc., by abandoning the territories? Or is all that already gone?

  • Vern says:

    To “Your Momma,”
    Pakistan isn’t losing revenue or even control when the Taliban take over land in the FATA, it is a revenue sump vice generator. Guess I should mention that most Pakistanis manage to avoid paying most taxes, which is one reason Pakistan is always in such terrible financial shape. When my inlaws lived there, they never paid and only the chumps payed taxes, because the thought is “What do I owe the state, they just oppress or interfer with me and my efforts to amass wealth.” One reason it is so corrupt, from a Western perspective (is just business as usual from a historical perspective though).
    The tribes don’t pay any taxes except supposedly on goods shipped in from Pakistan, but that is where the smuggling comes in. Goods shipped to Afghanistan or one of the other ‘Stans via Pakistan (Karachi) pay little or no tax, thus the shipment of goods to such nominal destinations then the “return” of the goods back into the FATA and then resale into Pakistani markets at a much cheaper price (having “fallen off the truck,” so to speak).
    Of course, US/NATO shipments are assessed numerous fees, mainly unofficial ones as they transit each tribal area. Don’t pay, truck gets attakced, so it is lots of revenue for the tribes and big business not to be messed with lightly. So look at those attacks carefully, not just from a military supply cutting perspective.
    On a similar note, the area gets subsidized electrical power from the Pakistan power grid at no cost, and then complain about it when there is an interruption. Pirating of electrical power is huge as well, lots of stories of inadvertent electricution deaths.
    The major thing Pakistan loses when Taliban takes over a tribal area or even an Agency, say like Orakzai, is security for adjacent “settled areas.”
    Seeing as the supply route via Peshawar is repeatedly getting closed, does anybody know what the status of the supply route via Quetta/Chaman/Kandahar is looking like now? Only other alternative routes or from the north via Uzbekistan, Tajikistan or Turkmenistan, or from the west via Iran (chah Bahar/Jask/Bandar Abbas via Zahedan).
    Has always frustrated me that the Pak Army never went out on the offensive against Taliban or other dacoits except for occasional battalion sweeps. Use of SSG is fairly regular, great training for them anyways, but most troops just sit in the cantonments! And why the US accepts Pakistani labeling of Frontier Forces as combat forces (which enables Pakistan to grossly inflate their purported troop “commitment” to OEF) also has always been a mystery to me.

  • Global Citizen says:

    A few points:
    1) The Taliban etc are a creation of the ISI & Pakistani Military establishment. They’ve never really wanted to fight them
    2) The ISI-Military Establishment & the Jihadi groups like Taliban, Lakshar-e-Toiba/Jamaat-ud-Daawa only care for what’s ‘good’ for them not the people of Pakistan!
    3) The November 26 terrorist attack in Mumbai was part of a ‘clever’ plan -one goal being to disengage the Pakistani forces from ‘fighting’ the Taliban claiming they were needed on the western border to defend a possible attack by India.
    4) General Kayani the new Pakistan Military chief has show himself to be a master tactician and will continue to milk the Americans of billions of dollars while ‘progressing’ in the Jihadi goals – Just like Zia-ul-Haq & Pervez Musharaf! ‘

  • Barlowmaker says:

    If the Mountain people of FATA are protecting the Taliban, and the Taliban are attacking our soldiers and subverting our Afghan allies from FATA, then the people of FATA are our enemies and as far as I’m concerned any “collateral” casualties we inflict upon them that they brought upon themselves. If the citizenry of that region want to live a 7th century life of deprevation, ignorance and squalor in peaceful isolation, let them be. If they harbor expeditionary terrorists, then they might just die and I don’t give a whit.

  • Mr T says:

    I agree Barlowmaker. The problem is there are people there who do not want to live in the 7th century but would be killed if they spoke out. How do we separate them from the fervent jihadists who should be sent to their maker as they wish so the rest can live in peace?

  • RCLI says:

    The one thing one has to remember about the NWFP is that the local tribal structures have to be taken account of by our military forces. This was achieved by the British during the Raj through the use of political officers. (Reading Robert Kaplan might be helpful) If such an office could be established by coalition forces it would be useful. It has to be an aim of the coalition to cleave the tribes of the NWFP and Afghanistan itself from the Taliban or Al Qaeda forces structure. Something like this has helped coalition forces in Iraq defeat or at least dismantal Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. Sheer force will not work no matter how great it might feel for those pulling the trigger.

  • Vern says:

    It is not true that “sheer force” won’t work, it has been tried in the Pushtun region in the past and it does work. (Think Alexander the Great or the Mongols) However, I do not believe that the government of the United States nor even the military forces of the US would participate, much less advocate, genocide, the proverbial “making a desert and calling it peace.” Aside from the ethical implications, just think of the logistical effort that anything close to that, or a full and complete military occupation by forces that have a 10 to 1 force ratio over any “potential” resistance force, and no way would the US or its allies support it for several generations.
    As I noted in 2005 to DoD and DoS folks inside the Beltway, the average historical Pushtun resistance “movement” lasts anywhere from one to ten generations, and usually succeeds not through tactical ability but by sheer longevity and willingness to send the youths out to die in an adverse exchange ratio.
    Only real option is to bribe the tribes.
    As for the ongoing religious frenzy, aka Talibanization, it won’t last. Never has because it is a “foreign” element (Arab Islamist, Central Asians and South Asian Deobandism) and the Pushtun xenophobia will eventually reassert itself and drive it out. Of course, that is little help for us right now.
    Only real way to make inroads is the way the Brits did it (and the Pkistanis stopped doing) is to build roads, both to allow security forces in, and more importantly, to let in educators and engineers who can provide the “softening” agents of civilization as well as allow many of the poorer and/or ambitious Pushtuns out into the bigger world where they can be absorbed. The Pushtun diaspora is huge, almost equal in size to those resident in the FATA and settled areas.
    I’ve wandered.

  • ED says:


  • RCLI says:

    Yes, there are times when sheer force is necessary, but what I was trying to stress was that there is a need for a structure with Political Officers, who may very well be military or perhaps people from foriegn affairs, who could combat the appeal or threat of the Taliban. This in combination with coalition forces could anniliate the Taliban and their allies.


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