The Pakistani paramilitary Frontier Corps claimed 48 Taliban fighters were killed yesterday during heavy fighting in the Taliban-controlled tribal agency of Mohmand.
The military fired artillery and conducted helicopter strikes against Taliban positions in the mountains the day after the Taliban launched a major assault on a military compound in Mohmand. Heavy fighting was reported in the regions close to the Afghan border, Frontier Corps told the media.
More troops are being rushed to the region, according to reports. “Additional soldiers and equipment, including tanks and armored personnel carriers (APCs), arrived at a military camp in Ghalanai,” Daily Times reported.
Monday’s battle in Mohmand took place after hundreds of Taliban fighters crossed the border from Afghanistan and linked up with local Taliban forces in Mohmand. The joint force then attacked paramilitary checkpoints and the Mamad Gate base with mortar and rocket fire. Taliban forces were able to enter the base, which houses the Quick Reaction Force counterterrorism unit. Pakistani troops repelled the attack, killing an estimated 40 Taliban and capturing four more. Fifteen paramilitary troops were reported killed and more than 20 were reported captured, although the Frontier Corps denied taking such heavy casualties.
Fighting in Mohmand has intensified during the past several months as the military has been battling the Taliban in the bordering tribal agency of Bajaur. Taliban forces are crossing into Mohmand to rearm and regroup.
The Mohmand Taliban is commanded by Omar Khalid. Pakistanis have described Khalid as “the strongest and most influential Taliban leader after Baitullah Mehsud and Maulvi Faqir,” a reference to the leader and deputy leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan.
Khalid became the dominant Taliban commander in Mohmand in July 2008 after defeating the Shah Sahib group, a rival pro-Taliban terror group. Khalid’s forces killed 10 members of the Shah Sahib group and captured another 80. Among those killed were Muslim Khan, the leader of the Shah Sahib group, and Mullah Obaidullah, the deputy leader. The groups reconciled after Baitullah Mehsud ordered an end to the fighting.
The Shah Sahib group consists of fighters of the banned Lashkar-e-Taiba, which operates in Mohmand and across the border in Afghanistan’s Kunar province. The Lashkar-e-Taiba took part in the July 13 attack on a US outpost across the border in Afghanistan’s Nuristan province, and has conducted numerous high-profile terror attacks inside Pakistan, Kashmir, and India, including the November 2008 terror assault in Mumbai.
Negotiating with the Taliban in Swat and Hangu
As troops are engaged in Mohmand, the government and local tribes have cut deals with the Taliban in an effort to halt the fighting in the settled Northwest Frontier Province districts of Swat and Hangu.
In Swat, where the government has failed to eject the Taliban after two years of fighting, local tribal leaders met with the Taliban to negotiate a cease-fire. “Swat Taliban chief Maulana Fazlullah was among several Taliban leaders present in the meeting, held at an undisclosed location, that considered the ceasefire’s imposition,” Daily Times reported. Negotiations are also reportedly underway with the military.
The Taliban is said to overtly control more than two-thirds of the once-popular vacation spot. Last fall, the government admitted that Swat, Shangla, and several other settled areas of the province are under Taliban control. The Taliban have established a “state within a state” in Swat and have begun to implement sharia, or Islamic law.
The government has signed two peace agreements with the Swat Taliban: one in 2007 and another in 2008.
In Hangu, the local government brokered a cease-fire after sectarian fighting broke out between Sunni and Shia last weekend, resulting in more than 40 killed and scores wounded. Taliban fighters poured into Hangu to attack the Shia.
Tribal leaders “who have close relations with the local and non-local Taliban” were instrumental in getting both sides to agree to the cease-fire, Dawn reported. Taliban fighters who entered Hangu were granted safe passage.
Hangu borders the Taliban-controlled tribal agencies of North Waziristan, Kurram, and Arakzai. In July 2008, the provincial government canceled a military operation in Hangu after a peace agreement with the Taliban was signed.
The peace agreement required the Taliban to recognize the government’s writ, stop attacks on government security forces, and refrain from running a parallel government and legal system. In exchange, the government withdrew the Army from Hangu and paid “compensation to people who were affected during the operation.” In the past the Taliban had received direct payments from the government.