Pakistani government signals fighting limited to Swat region

A Pakistani Army tank is heavily damaged and abandoned during fighting in northwestern Pakistan.

The Pakistani military continues to rely on helicopter gunships, attack aircraft, and artillery against dug in Taliban forces in the Swat valley as heavy fighting has been reported over the past 24 hours. The military claimed 143 Taliban fighters were killed in Swat and another 15 were killed in Dir, but the casualties could not be confirmed.

“So far, 143 militants have been killed in last twenty four hours while security forces have suffered seven shaheed (killed or martyred) and twelve injured,” Major General Athar Abbas, the senior military spokesman said at a press conference at military headquarters in Rawalpindi.

Fighting was reported in the Kabal, Kanju, Khawazakhela Chamtalai, and Mingora regions in Swat. The military claimed a Taliban commander named Akbar Ali was killed during strikes in Kanju.

The Taliban are reportedly holding more than 100 security personnel in Mingora. Abbas said regular Army soldiers and paramilitary Frontier Corps soldiers were killed in the fighting.

NWFP-NORTH-06MAY09_900-small.JPG

Click map for full view. Taliban presence, by district, in the Malakand Division region in Pakistan . Information on Taliban presence obtained from open source reporting and sources, and derived by The Long War Journal based on the presence of Taliban shadow governments, levels of fighting, and statements from ISAF commanders. Map created by Bill Raymond for The Long War Journal.

In Dir, the military claimed it is in control of the Madain region, the home town of pro-Taliban cleric Sufi Mohammed, and killed 15 Taliban, including two commanders and 13 fighters during an engagement there. But local residents said the Taliban are still patrolling the region and are preaching and recruiting at mosques. The Taliban denied taking high casualties in Dir, saying only one fighter was killed along with a Pakistani soldier who was killed in an ambush.

The Taliban are blocking military deployments into Dir and Swat by attacking convoys in the town of Chakdara in Dir. Chakdara is strategically located at the entrance to both Dir and Swat. Troops are moved from the Malakand district through Chakdara. The military declared a curfew in Malakand as Taliban fighters are attacking in the district as well.

In Buner, the military claimed it is close to victory after taking control of the main town of Daggar and the Ambela region. The Taliban are still in control of the towns of Sultanwas and Pir Baba, and are said to control the main roads around Daggar. Residents are fleeing Ambela despite the military’s claims the region is under control.

Government talks tough on Taliban

The Pakistani government claimed it is serious about tackling the Taliban threat in the northwest. The statements were made as President Asif Ali Zardari was visiting the US in an effort to obtain aid for his country.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani addressed the nation on television and said the Taliban would be defeated. “The army has been called in to eliminate the militants,” Gilani said. “Nobody can be allowed to challenge the writ of the government.”

Zardari claimed the operation in Swat “will go on till the situation returns to normal” and said the problem is not limited to Pakistan.

“There’s a realization in the world that it’s a regional problem, a worldwide problem,” Zardari said. “It is not an Afghan or a Tora Bora problem. It is not a problem secluded in the mountains of Pakhtoonkhwa [the Pashtun region straddling Pakistan and Afghanistan]. This realization brings strength to the fight.”

But Pakistani politicians have talked tough against the Taliban in the past and have let the Taliban off the hook. After the massive suicide bombing at the Islamabad Marriott, the government described the incident as Pakistan’s September 11 and launched offensives in Swat and Bajaur. The operations ended without conclusion after several months of fighting by the poorly armed and trained police and Frontier Corps.

Pakistani political and military leaders are signaling that the current offensive may be limited to the Swat region. Zardari only discussed the ongoing operation in the Swat, Buner, and Dir region and made no mention of the tribal areas of North and South Waziristan, Kurram, Mohmand, Arakzai, Khyber, and Bajaur, and the districts of Tank, Bannu, Hangu, and other districts under Taliban control or influence.

Zardari also signaled that there is little in the way of regular Army reinforcements to aid in any offensive. Only three brigades of Pakistani regular troops, an estimated 9,000 troops, are being moved into the region from the Northern Areas, a sparsely populated region bordering India-held Kashmir. Zardari said there are no more troops available to be moved from the Indian border.

“Half of our army is deployed on Indo-Pak Eastern boarder and we cannot move army from there for their deployment on Western border,” Zardari said, according to Geo News. When asked why more troops wouldn’t be deployed from the Indian border, he replied: “We have already done so.”

Last December the Pakistani Army withdrew an estimated 30,000 troops from the Northwest Frontier Province and the tribal areas to counter a perceived threat from India after Lashkar-e-Taiba launched a deadly military assault on Mumbai.

The Pakistani military leadership has loathed to commit to fighting the Taliban out of fear that the Army will split apart and leave Pakistan open to an Indian assault. The Pakistani military establishment views India, and not the Taliban, as the real threat to security, despite the Taliban’s bloody insurgency that has hit in every major city.

“The Army leadership and General Kiyani [the Chief of Army Staff] in particular fear that battling the Taliban will split the officer corps and the rank and file,” a senior US military intelligence official told The Long War Journal. “There is significant support or sympathizers in the military for the Taliban and other Pakistani jihadi organizations. A full on fight [with the Taliban] might force them to take sides.”

Minister for Interior Rehman Malik has already declared the Swat, Dir, and Buner operations a success and said the military has performed well in the tribal areas, even though there currently is no activity there.

Abbas has claimed the Taliban have suffered a stinging political defeat as the people know they stand neither for Islamic law nor the people after rejecting the latest peace agreement. Past and similar Pakistani governments have made this same argument after peace agreements have failed, yet more deals were reached and the Taliban have moved closer to Islamabad and Peshawar.

Background on the Malakand Accord and fighting in Swat

The government signed the Malakand Accord with Taliban front man Sufi Mohammed, Fazlullah’s father-in-law, on February 16 after two years of fighting that put the Taliban in control of the district. During those two years, the military was defeated three separate times while attempting to wrest control from the Taliban. Each defeat put the Taliban in greater control of the district.

The peace agreement called for the end of military operations in Swat, the end of Taliban operations, and the imposition of sharia, or Islamic law, in the districts of Malakand, Swat, Shangla, Buner, Dir, Chitral, and Kohistan, a region that encompasses nearly one-third of the Northwest Frontier Province.

But the Taliban violated the agreement immediately after signing it, and proceeded to attack security forces and conduct armed patrols. The military remained silent while the government approved the Taliban’s demand for sharia throughout Malakand.

The government ordered a military offensive in Dir and Buner after enormous pressure from the US and other Western governments to stem the Taliban tide pushing toward central Pakistan. The Taliban advanced from Swat into Buner in early April and took over the district in eight days. The move into Buner has put the Taliban within 60 miles of Islamabad and close to several nuclear facilities and the vital Tarbela Dam. The Taliban also have moved into Mansehra and established bases and a training camp in the region.

Pakistani government and military officials have dismissed the Taliban threat to Islamabad and the country’s nuclear facilities, but at the end of April, 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.

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

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20 Comments

  • Render says:

    Al-Khalid (AKA China’s MBT-2000/Type-90II).
    At least we can now confirm first line regulars are in the fight (if they didn’t pull that one out of a training school).
    Pakistani army can count themselves lucky the Talib don’t have anything big enough to move the hulk. Pakistani army is going to have to mount a major effort just to recover the thing.
    It probably could be rebuilt, but that one looks pretty well burnt out.
    One of their very top of the line main battle tanks is abandoned inside enemy held territory? That is not a good sign no matter how its spun.
    Tanks almost never operate alone, where’s the rest of the platoon, company, battalion? Did they pull that same “armor leads infantry follows” stunt again?
    Anybody seen the video footage yet?
    NEED A
    BIGGER
    BOAT,
    R

  • Spooky says:

    Tanks won’t help the Pakistanis much anyway apart from the main strategic routes, though its a step in the right direction.
    I do wonder if the Taliban have ever been capable of driving a tank. If not, then I’m a bit relieved since it isn’t easy to use one of them juggernauts effectively. But if they do have some sort of minimal training (or at least some of them), then I’m not gonna have easy nights sleeping, since I doubt (and this picture proves me right it seems) the Pakistanis are capable of playing a good game of keep away with their armor.

  • Neo says:

    Don’t forget to mention the Malakand Pass south of Chakdara. The military must effectively control the Pass and the mountains directly overlooking it to effectively enter the Swat valley.
    This place has some history.
    //en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of_Malakand

  • Neo says:

    The Pakistani army is going to be tested severely here. They are looking for trouble if doesn’t use enough troops to adequately secure the Malakand, Chakdara, Mongora road.
    I could easily see this shaping into a semi-conventional battle with increasing numbers of Taliban irregulars in the mountains pinching down on troops strung out along the road to Mongora. The Pakistani army needs to worry about poorly deployed, low morale troops getting pinned down along that road.
    Keeping troops on the Indian frontier may turn out to be one of the stupidest military moves in recent history. Besides, The last thing India wants is to attack. India’s future is in internal economic development. You couldn’t give them another stinking inch of the India-Pakistan frontier if you bribed them to take it.

  • Max says:

    I think Obama and Clinton need to do some serious talking to India to move their army away from the border far enough so that Pakistan can feel comfortable redeploying more of their army to the fight against the Taliban without feeling vulnerable to India. Does anyone know if they have done that?

  • Zalmay says:

    The tank is an Al-Zarrar – upgraded T-59.

  • C. Jordan says:

    “Keeping troops on the Indian frontier may turn out to be one of the stupidest military moves in recent history”
    Personally, I’m a firm believer that the Mumbai attacks where designed to do just that. AQ and the Talib where looking to release some pressure.

  • NS says:

    Personally, I’m a firm believer that the Mumbai attacks where designed to do just that. AQ and the Talib where looking to release some pressure.
    Word.The Mumbai attacks were planned for quite some time- therefore the Pak military-Taliban jihadi complex has been itching to turn the direction of this conflict for quite a while.
    I have been asking myself this same question for quite some time now – when will this charade really end ? The Taliban is not going any where any time soon – they are the home team in this war.
    The Pakistan military is counting on the US to leave ultimately-and before they go, milk them to the last dollar in the name of “fighting terror”.
    They are not going to give up on the Taliban neither as a strategic asset against India and the rest of the region nor as a useful tool to milk money from Western donor nations.
    So, even as we look at these day to day events, it is not clear if the fundamental dynamic of this war or if its geostrategic importance has changed.
    Caught between the devil and the deep blue seas are the civilians in the area – if the humanitarian crisis grows bigger, God save the civilians.

  • Spooky says:

    My big worry is the refugee crisis, both because it could test to the point of failure the facilities just outside the combat zone as well as for the reason that there could be Taliban sleepers among them either trying to escape into the big cities where it would be impossible to be tracked down or…worse…they blow themselves up in the middle of overcrowded IDP camps. The chaos that would come from that might probably break the camels back, so to speak.

  • Marlin says:

    Bill reported; Zardari also signaled that there is little in the way of regular Army reinforcements to aid in any offensive. Only three brigades of Pakistani regular troops, an estimated 9,000 troops, are being moved into the region from the Northern Areas, a sparsely populated region bordering India-held Kashmir. Zardari said there are no more troops available to be moved from the Indian border.
    Hopefully, this further information turns out to be true as Pakistan needs to commit further resources to have any chance of establishing security in the region.

    Pakistan has told the Obama administration that it is sending an additional six army brigades to join a major government offensive against Taliban forces in the northwestern part of the country, and it has pledged to hold territory where extremist forces are dislodged, Pakistani and U.S. officials said yesterday.
    […]
    In an interview yesterday with Washington Post reporters and editors, Zardari did not confirm the movement of the brigades, some of which were said by others, on the condition of anonymity, to be moving from Punjab province and the country’s border with India.

    Washington Post: Pakistan Reinforcing Army in Taliban Battle

  • Zalmay says:

    It’s an Al-Zarrar with the newer upgrade kit, but no ERA blocks.
    As for this war, it will end in failure for the army, as no one can beat my pashtuns at their own game. Every army finds this out the hard way. Brits, Russians, US and Pak.

  • Render says:

    Zalmay – Does the Al-Zarrar’s newest upgrade kit include the full Type 90/Type 96 turret (squared edges) of the Al-Khalid? That’s not entirely impossible and I’ll quickly concede the point if so.
    My understanding is that not all of the Heavy Industries Taxila built Al-Khalid’s had the ERA blocks mounted (money talks). And that the Al-Zarrar’s retained the rounded Type 59 turret.
    Either way, both tanks represent first line units commited to the fighting. As opposed to the Type 59/105’s we saw previously.
    Now if they would just learn to use them correctly…
    HEAVY
    METAL,
    R

  • Render says:

    Forgot…
    Also note the lack of a fording splash shield between the lights. All of the Al-Zarrar’s I’ve seen so far have retained that splash shield from the Type 59. The Al-Khalid’s never had one.
    MULTI
    TASKED,
    R

  • Marlin says:

    If true, this is a positive development.

    The student added that the army seemed determined to flush out the militants. “For the first time, they are killing Taliban,”

  • Marlin says:

    Unfortunately it seems like the Army is more interested in killing Taliban with fighter jets and attack helicopters than with troops on the ground. This report doesn’t give me any optimism the Army is really intent on taking infantry casualties in a head to head battle with the Taliban.

    Education has always been a hot issue for the Taliban – last January they ordered the closure of all girls’ schools – so it is perversely appropriate that the war is being fought between schools. On Thursday, the Observer visited the Pamir building, which until recently housed the Educators School and College. It was filled with Taliban, their weapons trained on a contingent of soldiers located in a deserted school a few streets away.
    The target is the last military bastion in the otherwise Taliban-controlled city, and the soldiers hunkered down inside also face fire from a second position: the Mullababa high school, on the far side of a desiccated riverbed. The army says that 15,000 members of the security forces are located in Swat, many under siege in two camps across the river Swat in Kanju village. One is located on the city golf course, where heavy artillery booms from the rutted greens; the other is inside an unused air strip that has been the target of several Taliban assaults.

    Guardian/Observer: Inside the Taliban’s besieged Swat fortress as battle rages

  • Marlin says:

    Zalmay, not so fast. Your memory of Pashtun history isn’t entirely accurate.

    He then spent the following years fighting the Afghans, driving them out of the Punjab. He also captured Pashtun territory including Peshawar (now referred to as North West Frontier Province and the Tribal Areas). This was the first time that Peshawari Pashtuns were ruled by Sikhs. He captured the province of Multan which encompassed the southern parts of Punjab, Peshawar (1818), Jammu and Kashmir (1819). Thus Ranjit Singh put an end to more than a thousand years of Islamic invaders coming down through the Khyber Pass and invading India; the capture of these territories finally put an end to this.

    Wikipedia: Ranjit Singh

  • Bangash Khan says:

    Wow, Pakistan Army is fighting terrorists in multiple district using heavy arms, and here we have folk giving judgements based on websites and Wikipedia.

  • NS says:

    Pakistan Army is fighting terrorists in multiple district using heavy arms, and here we have folk giving judgements based on websites and Wikipedia.
    Well, talk about missing the forest for the trees. After 7 and half years of Pakistan “fighting terror” the Taliban is within 60 miles of the capital raising alarm bells and scorching pressure on the military and the Government to ACT.
    If you have visited the LWJ often enough you would know that there are more than mere Wikepdia articles and websites pointing to Pakistani perfidy. No one wants this charade to continue any longer and the US is pressing Pakistan to act now and act decisively.
    Let’s not forget that the Pakistan army has NEVER pro-actively acted on its own to root out the Taliban and has been coaxed, cajoled,begged and bribed to do so. Any one who has a cursory understanding of geo-politics in this region can also understand WHY the Pakistan Army has acted the way it has.
    So, let us not crow too much about the Army “fighting” terrorists in multiple districts when they have a mere 9000 troops in this fight and the rest pf them are Frontier Corps whose training and fighting abilities are poor. Not to forget the immense civilian collateral that is created by airstrikes – the Army is simply afraid to fight the Taliban on the ground as its officers will openly switch to the enemy.

  • Render says:

    Zalmay – You were correct. It was an al-Zarrar. I finally got to see a full side view (thanks Bill) and it has five road wheels with the gap between the first and second wheels.
    WELL
    DONE,
    R

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