Click map for full view. Taliban presence, in the Islamabad region. 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.
As the government is conducting military operations against the Taliban in Dir and Buner in the insurgency-plagued Northwest Frontier Province, Taliban fighters have moved into the district of Mansehra and established a base and a training camp.
More than 100 heavily armed Taliban fighters have established a base of operations in the Kala Dhaka region of Mansehra and set up training camp in Loniyian, Dawn reported. Only 100 poorly armed and trained Levies personnel are said to be on hand to halt a Taliban incursion.
Loniyian “once used to be a training camp of militants that was closed after the government launched a crackdown on such camps,” security officials told Dawn. “The official sources claimed that the camp had again been made functional where new recruits were being trained.” Last summer, US military and intelligence officials told The Long War Journal that 157 terror training camps were in operation in Pakistan’s northwest.
The Mansehra Taliban are said to be led by Moman Khan, who claimed to have been commander of the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi but said he no longer works with the group. Khan is said to have been behind recent threats and attacks against non-governmental organizations in neighboring Abbottabad. The Lashkar-i-Jhangvi is an anti-Shia terror group that has been co-opted by al Qaeda and has conducted numerous attacks inside Pakistan.
The tribes have expressed displeasure with the Taliban encroachment and have ordered the Taliban to leave. Khan claimed he has not conducted any acts of violence.
The Taliban expansion eastward from the tribal areas has put Pakistani and Western leaders into a panic. The move into Buner has put the Taliban within 60 miles of Islamabad and close to several nuclear facilities and the vital Tarbela Dam. Last week, the local Islamabad government ordered troops to deploy in the Margala hills just north of the city to block a Taliban advance while the Haripur government beefed up security at the Tarbela Dam. Last week, an Islamist government official claimed the Taliban was advancing into Haripur and Mansehra.
The Taliban move into Mansehra puts them along the strategic Karakoram Highway, a road that links Pakistan to China in the north. A Taliban takeover of Mansehra would also open up a direct route into Muzaffarabad in Pakistan-held Kashmir. Kashmiri terrorists, reportedly backed by the Pakistani military and intelligence services, have surged into India-held Kashmir and have stepped up attacks to destabilize the region.
The military has taken notice of the Taliban’s eastward advance. The military leadership is reportedly preparing to utilize two regular Army brigades against the Taliban in neighboring Buner. The deployment is designed to “defeat the militants and secure control of the area to block their possible advances to other areas, particularly Hazara,” according to a report in The News.
The Hazara Division is made up of the districts of Abbottabad, Battagram, Haripur, Kohistan and Mansehra. This region has been relatively free of Taliban attacks until recently when the Taliban took full control of Swat and forced the government to implement Islamic law in the Malakand Division and Kohistan. The Taliban have used this time and space to attack neighboring districts in Hazara.
The Taliban have advanced deep into Pakistani territory since their initial takeover of North and South Waziristan in 2003-2004. The Taliban have since taken over the tribal areas and much of the Northwest Frontier Province. Peshawar, the provincial capital, is under siege as the Taliban regularly target NATO convoys moving through the area, while the Taliban have made inroads into Punjab province and control several districts in Baluchistan.