Pakistan launches operation against the Taliban in Buner

Click map for full view. Taliban presence, by district and tribal agency, in the Northwest Frontier Province, Punjab, and the Federally Administered Tribal Agencies. Information on Taliban presence obtained from open source and derived by The Long War Journal based on the presence of Taliban shadow governments, levels of fighting, and reports from the region. Map created by Bill Raymond for The Long War Journal. Last updated: April 24, 2009.

The Pakistani government has launched a military operation in the Taliban-controlled district of Buner. The operation is the second in three days in the Malakand Division, a region recently ceded to the Taliban in a controversial peace agreement. The Malakand Division encompasses nearly one-third of the Northwest Frontier Province.

Paramilitary fighters from the Frontier Corps backed by regular Army units, artillery, helicopter gunships, and attack aircraft moved into Buner this afternoon after the government warned the Taliban to “leave Buner or face action.”

“The aim of the offensive is to eliminate and expel militants from Buner,” Major General Athar Abbas, the Director-General of the Inter-Services Public Relations, said during a briefing.

The military estimated that more than 500 Taliban fighters “equipped with sophisticated communication system” are present in Buner. The government and military had previously claimed only 100 local Taliban fighters were present in Buner after the Taliban were ordered to withdraw from the district by Swat Taliban commander Mullah Fazlullah.

No casualties have been reported in Buner at this time. The Taliban are said to have blown up a bridge and are deploying along strategic roads as well as in fortified positions in the mountains overlooking the valleys.

The Taliban took control of Buner just eight days after advancing into the district. Following a brief clash with the Taliban, the police and local tribal militias ended resistance.

The Buner operation is launched just two days after the military went on the offensive in Dir, a district bordering Swat to the north. The Frontier Corps targeted the home town of Sufi Mohammed, the radical pro-Taliban cleric who has served as the intermediary with the government in negotiating the Malakand Accord. The peace agreement called for the end of military operations and the imposition of sharia, or Islamic law, in the districts of Malakand, Swat, Shangla, Buner, Dir, Chitral, and Kohistan. Sufi is currently missing; neither the Taliban nor the government has seen or heard from him since April 26.

The military is claiming success in Dir. Abbas said that more than 70 Taliban fighters and 10 security forces personnel have been killed during three days of fighting, while several Taliban base camps were destroyed in artillery bombardments. The government also claimed to be in control of Dir; however, fighting is still ongoing. More than 30,000 of Dir’s one million-plus residents have fled the region to avoid the fighting.

Taliban creeps closer to Islamabad and Peshawar despite military operations

The Pakistani military has launched a series of operations in an effort to stem the Taliban push toward the provincial capital of Peshawar and Islamabad, the national capital. While the government and military have claimed success, the operations have failed to prevent the Taliban advance. Today, both Peshawar and Islamabad are under the real threat of being overrun by the Taliban.

The offensives against the Taliban have been limited in both size and scope. There is no coordinated campaign plan between the military and the local and federal governments to address the wider problem of Taliban control in northwestern Pakistan. Instead, the districts and tribal agencies are each treated as discrete problems.

Counterinsurgency is not a consideration; the Pakistani military often sends in the poorly armed and trained Frontier Corps, and the military also levels local towns in air and artillery strikes. The Taliban in neighboring regions provide reinforcements, supplies, and sanctuary during the fighting. If the Pakistani military gains the upper hand, the Taliban slip away to neighboring districts or tribal agencies, and return after government forces leave.

With the exception of the military offensives in Swat, the operations have never lasted more than several weeks.

The fighting has never led to a conclusive outcome. Instead, the military and the government initiate ceasefires and peace agreements just as the fighting intensifies. The Taliban have come out of the fighting in a better position to assert their power, because the government and the military are viewed as weak and indecisive. The local government and populations are demoralized as they view the government to be unwilling and unable to halt the Taliban advance.

Below is a list of the major operations fought since July 2007 and the outcomes.

Islamabad, July 2007:

The Pakistani government ordered a siege and subsequent full scale assault on the Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, in Islamabad in July. The mosque and madrassa were run by Taliban-linked extremists Abdul Aziz and Abdul Rasheed Ghazi.

Aziz and Ghazi directed their followers to impose sharia, or Islamic law, in neighborhoods in the heart of Islamabad. Their followers kidnapped policemen and beat those who would not comply with sharia.

More than 100 extremists, including Ghazi, were killed during the attack and several hundred were captured, including Aziz. Eleven Pakistani soldiers were killed.

The assault was perhaps the most decisive action against the Taliban, but the results were short-lived. Extremists retook the Lal Masjid just one day after it was reopened. All of those detained have been released, including Maulana Abdullah Aziz, the leader of the Red Mosque. He was released earlier this month and immediately began preaching for the imposition of sharia.

North Waziristan, July – August 2007:

Fighting flared in North Waziristan immediately after the assault on the Lal Masjid. Taliban forces ambushed Pakistani military convoys and checkpoints throughout the tribal agency and conducted suicide attacks against military forces. Nearly 100 Pakistani soldiers were killed and more than 100 wounded during heavy fighting. Dozens of Taliban were also killed during the fighting.

The Pakistani military attempted to hold territory but were repelled and forced to return to garrison. The military then resorted to conducting helicopter and air strikes against Taliban positions. The fighting ebbed in August as it flared in neighboring South Waziristan and the government scrambled to save the North Waziristan peace agreement.

South Waziristan, August – September 2007:

The Taliban conducted its most successful military operation during 2007 in South Waziristan. A small Taliban force captured a convoy of more than 300 Pakistani soldiers without a shot being fired. The Pakistani government negotiated with Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud to secure their release after several ineffectual clashes. The Taliban paraded the captured soldiers in October.

In mid-December, a council of 40 senior Taliban leaders established the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan — the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan — and appointed Baitullah its leader.

North Waziristan, October 2007:

The Pakistani military and the Taliban fought pitched battles in North Waziristan during October 2007. The military launched artillery barrages and helicopter and attack aircraft assaults against Taliban-controlled villages in North Waziristan. The Taliban responded by setting up complex ambushes, including surface-to-air missile traps, a senior US military intelligence official told The Long War Journal. Several Pakistani Army helicopters were said to have been shot down during the fighting.

The Pakistani military claimed that 120 Taliban and 45 soldiers were killed in the fighting, but independent reports put the number of soldiers killed much higher.

The government pushed for a peace deal at the end of October and the fighting waned. In February 2008, an official peace agreement was signed.

Swat and Shangla, October 2007 – January 2008:

The Pakistani military launched an operation to retake the settled district of Swat after Mullah Fazlullah’s forces overran police stations and paramilitary outposts. The neighboring district of Shangla was overrun by the Taliban in November. More than 200 policemen and soldiers were killed during fighting in Swat in 2007.

The military said the operation to retake Swat would be over by Dec. 15, 2007 and the ski resort would be open for business. The Taliban was driven from Shangla in November 2007 and fighting tapered off in Swat in February 2008 after the military made some gains. But the government never took full control over the district. The resort was burned down, while the government signed a peace agreement with the Taliban in May 2008.

South Waziristan, January – February 2008:

Heavy fighting between the Taliban and the military flared up in late January after the military launched yet another offensive to dislodge the extremists from entrenched positions. Prior to the military’s offensive, the Taliban overran two military forts and conducted numerous attacks against Pakistani forces. More than a dozen of Pakistan’s elite counterterrorism commandos were killed in a single engagement.

The military claimed to eject the Taliban from strongholds in Kotkai and Jandola and said it killed Qari Hussain, a senior Taliban leader who trains suicide bombers. After appearing later at a press conference in May, Hussain mocked the government. The Taliban recently retook Jandola after murdering dozens from a rival tribe while the military looked on. The military has pulled back to bases on the outskirts of South Waziristan.

Orakzai and Kohat, January 2008:

As fighting was underway in South Waziristan at the end of January, the Taliban launched attacks against government forces in the tribal agency of Orakzai and the neighboring settled district of Kohat.

In Orakzai, Pakistani troops battled Taliban fighters in the city of Darra Adam Khel after the Taliban hijacked a military convoy carrying supplies and ammunition for Pakistani troops. Six soldiers were captured during the hijacking and 14 more were captured during the subsequent fighting. The military halted the offensive after a peace jirga, or committee, requested the suspension of operations. The Taliban subsequently paraded the 14 hostages in a bazaar in Darra Adam Khel.

In Kohat, the Taliban captured the strategic Kohat Tunnel, which links Peshawar to the southern agencies and districts. Forty Frontier Corps troops were captured and eight were “slaughtered” while attempting to regain control of the tower at the peak of the Kohat Tunnel Mountain.

The military retook the tunnel after heavy fighting. The Taliban damaged the tunnel while attempting to it blow up during the retreat.

After the fighting, the Taliban have been collecting taxes from drivers on the road. The government is currently negotiating a peace agreement with the Taliban in Kohat.

Khyber, June 2008:

The military launched an operation to clear Khyber after the Taliban began to threaten the provincial capital of Peshawar. The operation lasted less than two weeks. The operation was described as Potemkin. An extremist leader was seen riding along the Frontier Corps to direct the operation and ensure vital areas were not targeted. Members of the Lashkar-i-Islam were released shortly after the operation ended.

Bajaur, September and October 2008:

The Frontier Corps, backed by the Army, attempted to eject the Taliban from Bajaur, where al Qaeda maintains a strong foothold. The operation came to a halt after more than a month of brutal fighting. The Taliban fought from prepared bunkers and trenches and routed an entire company of Frontier Corps fighters. The military claimed victory in October and said it killed Taliban leader Faqir Mohammed and al Qaeda’s Afghanistan commander Abu Mustafa Yazid during the fighting, but the reports were false.

Peshawar, Khyber, Charsadda, Mohmand, November 2008:

The Frontier Corps and local police launched an operation in regions in Peshawar, Khyber, Charsadda, and Mohmand in an effort to clear the Taliban from the outskirts of Peshawar and halt the Taliban attacks on NATO convoys moving through Khyber and Peshawar. The operation ended after one week. The Taliban vacated areas after putting up a minimal fight, then reoccupied the regions after the operation ended.

Bajaur and Mohmand, January and February 2009:

The Pakistani Army and Frontier Corps targeted the Taliban in Mohmand and Bajaur in an effort to dislodge them from their strongholds in these two tribal agencies. Fighting in Bajaur was especially intense and the military leveled entire towns and took weeks to clear a seven-mile stretch of road. The military and the Taliban agreed to a ceasefire in Bajaur at the end of February. In the beginning of March, two senior Pakistani military officers claimed that the Taliban has been defeated in the tribal agencies. But the military and the Taliban continue to clash in Mohmand and both agencies remain largely under Taliban control.

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



  • Kris Anton says:

    Thank you so much, Bill. I have been reading you for years and a more detailed and informative information source concerning this region cannot be found anywhere.
    Keep up the awesome reporting!

  • Marlin says:

    It’s easy for Interior Minister Malik to say this. The question is, ‘Is General Kayani on the same page with him’?

    Malik said that the government would launch operation in every area where writ of the state was challenged. He said that tribal or others areas would not be spared from operation against militants.
    However, the minister said: “These are reports of possible reaction of Buner operation. An effective security plan is well in place, but if any terrorist incident takes place any where, we will take stern action against militants.”

  • Spooky says:

    If he wanted to send troops wherever government writ was challenged, he’d have to declare martial law trhoughout the whole country. NWFP, Balochistan, South Punjab, Karachi are all in some level of revolt against Islamabad.

  • JDAM says:

    How much can we really trust what the Pak gov’t has to say? They always release these body-count numbers but they never can come close to defeating the Taliban (actually quite the opposite)
    Any thoughts?

  • Max says:

    “Pakistan launches operation to…” Nonsense. These people are just playing patty-cake with the Taliban and Al-quaeda because they largely agree with them and don’t want to really do anything about them in the first place.
    They are just hoping that the US and Nato will keep playing their game and giving them money to keep the Taliban at bay while they secretly support and fund the Taliban with our money and probably our weapons too. The end of this journey is not going to be a pretty one.

  • Marlin says:

    Dilawar Jan, a journalist, was taken away by the intelligence agencies for writing an article on April 28 about the impending security operations in Buner. So obviously he disclosed something sensitive.
    Geo TV: Journalists demand quick release of Dilawar Jan
    The article itself does make the claim that the army will send two brigades into the Buner conflict with perhaps further operations to come in the Swat valley. So perhaps General Kayani is sort of on the same page as Interior Minister Malik.

    Frontier Constabulary was moved a few days back to Buner to protect government buildings and installations. However, now the government has decided to launch an all-out military operation in Buner to eliminate or flush militants out of the district. Official sources said that Frontier Corps and army troops would take part in the operation. For the purpose, they added, two brigade army troops were arriving in the troubled district. “The operation could be started in the next few days,”

  • Spooky says:

    The Buner operation is already shooting them in the foot. 60 FC taken hostage at Pir Baba and 100 Taliban have poured into Kala Dhaka tehsil of Mansehra. From the article (link posted), it seems like the government’s writ in that area of the district is represented by two hundred untrained rent-a-cops. Everything depends on what the jirga decides. If they fight the Taliban, Swat will send in reinforcements, and Talib fighters fleeing Buner will assist, potentially overrunning more than just Kala Dhaka tehsil and forcing the army to expand their already limited response. If they agree to Taliban presence though, then the area falls by default and they move on to Oghi Tehsil. They’d be right at Mansehra city’s doorstep as quickly as they were at Swabi’s doorstep. And mind, Mansehra is a pitstop on the Karakoram highway.
    This is why it helps to attack from more than one side.–bi-07

  • Marlin says:

    This is helpful in understanding why the Pakistani government finally decided they had no other choice than to respond with force.

    Security forces launched a major operation in Buner on Tuesday after intelligence agencies intercepted a telephone conversation of Swat Taliban chief Maulana Fazlullah with his ‘commanders’ which revealed their plan to take over the area after faking a withdrawal.
    I warn Baitullah Mehsud that enough is enough,’ he said while talking to reporters. The minister ruled out any possibility of Taliban reaching the Margalla hills.
    The recording of the conversation of Maulana Fazlullah, which was played at the briefing, indicated that the militants had no plan to move out of Buner and that they were gearing up for a showdown with security forces using mines, rockets and other weapons.

    Dawn: Operation triggered by Taliban plan to take over Buner

  • Minnor says:

    I think they could solve Buner by diplomacy if not Dir. They should have given more time for compromise and withdraw, let us see how this battle goes.
    Seems like no operation updates from Dir and Orakzai. Such short span operations clear&leave are good for civilians.

  • micah says:

    I agree with Minnor. Unfortunately, the Taliban were actually sell accepted in Buner (thanks to a new public relations strategy by the Taliban to promise an end of various corruptions, and help in urban development). The military could compromise their public support in Buner making the public adopt a preference to the Taliban. For years Buneris hated the Taliban. If the military was going to do something, they should have done it as soon as the first batch of Talibs started moving into Buner. Now its too late, and they should have tried diplomacy. This could alter the state of the peace-deal and renew an even larger scale war into Swat district. The last thing the public wants is war in their areas. My friends in Pir Baba are vacating today to go to Mardan until this is over.
    Supposedly the Taliban took a bunch of police hostage in the mosque next to the Pir Baba shrine yesterday, so the battle could advance into the heart of the town.

  • AMac says:

    The front page of today’s Wall St. Journal has a photo of six artillerymen servicing a gun (maybe a 105mm towed howitzer?) under netting. “Pakistani soldiers load artillery Tuesday in an intensified effort, which included jet fighters, to drive Taliban militants back to the Swat Valley.”
    I hope these gunners have good, make that excellent spotters. Because this looks like a sure-fire way of raining explosives down on civilians with the bad luck of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s hard to imagine Talibs waiting around while these guys do their registration.
    Winning hearts and minds of Buneris? Probably not.

  • My2cents says:

    “The minister ruled out any possibility of Taliban reaching the Margalla hills.”
    Anyone want to bet that they get there before the end of May?
    I have no confidence in anything that the Pakistani government says any more.


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