The Pakistani military retook control of a Taliban-controlled district of Swat six days after launching the latest operation designed to free the region from extremist control.
Heavy fighting was reported in the Charbagh area and other regions as Pakistani forces launched air and artillery attacks against suspected Taliban strongholds. Forty-five civilians, 16 Taliban fighters, and four security personnel were killed over the past day during fighting throughout the district.
In Charbagh, “20 bodies of unidentified people are lying in crop fields,” Geo News reported. Pakistani forces were issued orders to “shoot to kill” anyone violating the curfew imposed in Swat last week. Also, two paramedics were killed and another was wounded when they attempted to recover the bodies of those killed in the Charbagh fighting.
Nine civilians were killed after artillery shells landed on their homes during the fighting. Ten more bodies, including the body of a police constable, were found in other regions. Three soldiers were also killed in an ambush.
The military has relied on artillery and airstrikes to drive Taliban forces from their safe havens. Pakistani troops have taken heavy casualties when confronting Taliban fighters on the ground during past engagements in the tribal agencies and the settled districts of the Northwest Frontier Province. The military tactics and Taliban terror campaign have forced more than 200,000 civilians to flee Swat. Hundreds of thousands fled the nearby tribal agency of Bajaur during a similar operation late last year.
The lack of concurrent military operations in the neighboring districts under Taliban control or influence has allowed Taliban fighters under the command of radical cleric Mullah Fazlullah to vacate Swat during previous operations. The Taliban forces returned and consolidated their control of the district.
Last week, the Pakistani government claimed to have a new, “secret” strategy which it was launching in Swat. Then government refused to disclose the details of the strategy. Rehman Malik, the advisor to Prime Minister Gilani on interior security issues, said the military was following the same strategy used by the military in the tribal agencies of Hangu, Khyber, and Bajaur. But these regions remain under Taliban control.
The current operation in Swat is the third operation launched to clear the region of the Taliban since 2007.
The Pakistani military boasted twice during the past two years that it would regain control of Swat. After launching the first operation to clear Swat in early November 2007, the military claimed it would clear the district by mid-December of that year. After 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 2008.
For more information on the recent fighting in Swat, see:
January 27, 2009
January 25, 2009
January 23, 2009
December 6, 2008
October 26, 2007
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.