As the Pakistani military operation in Swat is called into question, the Taliban have stepped up attacks in the central region in the Northwest Frontier Province. Over the past 24 hours the Taliban conducted three deadly attacks against security forces and civilians in Peshawar, Tank, and Dera Ismail Khan.
The largest attack took place today as the Taliban detonated a car bomb outside a cinema in the busy Khyber Bazaar in the provincial capital of Peshawar. Ten civilians were killed and more than 75 were wounded, some critically, according to Geo News.
The bombing was timed to maximize casualties. “The blast took place when a film show had just ended and the people were coming out,” a witness told Dawn.
Just hours after the attack, Taliban fighters tossed two hand grenades at a police checkpoint in Peshawar. No casualties were reported in that attack.
Peshawar has been the scene of several Taliban attacks; the last one took place just six days ago when a car bomb killed 11 people after it was detonated near an ice cream shop and Internet cafe. The security situation has deteriorated to the point where the city has been described as under siege. The Taliban have been enforcing Islamic law in regions of Peshawar and have ordered cinemas and CD and video shops to close.
Two attacks took place yesterday in the districts of Tank and Dera Ismail Khan. In Tank, a suicide bomber rammed into a Frontier Corps fort in the Jandola region, killing five paramilitary troops and four civilians, and wounding 25 more. And in nearby Dera Ismail Khan, five civilians were killed and another 25 were wounded after a roadside bomb was detonated at a bazaar. The Taliban have conducted numerous attacks in both districts. The Pakistani government has admitted that both districts are essentially under Taliban control.
Pakistani Army makes little progress in Swat
In Swat, Buner, and Dir, the Pakistani Army’s reported successes are being called into question. The Pakistani Army has barred independent reporting from the battlefield and has closely controlled the message. But the military’s reports have often been contradictory and have been described as “wildly exaggerated.”
The military has reported massive Taliban casualties with few casualties incurred by security forces. Nearly 1,200 Taliban fighters have been reported killed while only an estimated 60 security forces have been reported killed. No senior Taliban commanders have been killed or captured during the operation.
The military has refused to acknowledge that any civilian casualties have occurred. And there has been no word on the status of more than 100 members of the police, Army, Frontier Corps, Levies, and the Special Service Group who were captured by the Taliban. Four of the elite Special Service Group commandos were killed attempting to escape; the military never acknowledged this, however.
More than a week ago, the Army claimed that the main town of Mingora was surrounded; subsequent reports indicate, however, that troops are still advancing. Today, the military reported it captured “three-fourths of a ridge” outside of Mingora.
More than a week after air-assaulting into the small and isolated town of Peochar, a Taliban stronghold, the military has failed to clear the town.
“Peochar is a small town, it is strange that it hasn’t been cleared by now,” A US intelligence official tracking the operation told The Long War Journal. “This tells you two things: the Army is fighting a tough, well trained Taliban force; and the operation isn’t going as well as the Army brass wants us to believe.”
In the town of Kalam in northern Swat, the military is absent while the Taliban are attempting to overrun the region. The tribesmen raised a lashkar, or tribal militia, and asked the Taliban to leave the region to spare it from military attacks. The lashkar then captured eight Taliban fighters.
In response, the Taliban blocked the roads to prevent security forces from advancing to the region and began hunting down members of the lashkar. The military has failed to come to their aid after the tribes “made fervent [appeals] to the government, particularly the Army, to reach the area and save the local population as the local Lashkar lacked sophisticated weapons and a trained force to challenge the Taliban,” according to a report in The News. The government, however, has claimed that the tribe in Kalam has been successful in opposing the Taliban.
The military also claimed the district of Swat has been sealed off. “The noose is tightening around them,” Major General Sajad Ghani said. “Their routes of escape have been cut off.”
But the military failed to deploy enough forces to block the routes into and out of Swat at the onset of the operation, and only began moving forces two weeks after the start of the offensive. Taliban forces have moved into Shangla, Mardan, and Battagram in units ranging from 50 to 150 fighters, and have established footholds in the regions [see LWJ report, Taliban move forces eastward into Battagram]. Just four days ago, a force of 70 Taliban fighters moved into a region in Shangla.
Journalists and residents who are fleeing Swat have questioned the military’s claims of success in Swat. A reporter from The Associated Press, who was one of a few journalists given a brief tour of the battlefield, was skeptical of the military’s claims of fierce fighting in the district.
“From the air, there was little evidence of the fierce fighting and air strikes that the military claims have already killed more than 1,000 militants as well as some 60 soldiers,” Dawn reported.
A resident who recently left Swat told the BBC that the Taliban still controls much of Swat and that the military’s claims of success are false.
“The government spokesmen, sitting in Islamabad or Peshawar, are making false claims about the situation in Swat, saying they have taken control of the situation, or captured that place, or killed so many Taliban,” Mehmood told the BBC. “I swear upon God that it’s nothing like that.”
“Except for some parts of the GT (Grand Trunk) road, some mountain tops and the circuit house in Mingora, all of Swat is under the control of the Taliban,” he continued. “If the government really has cleared and taken control of the region, it should bring in the media and let the whole world see it for themselves. I keep moving around, and in several places I have seen army checkpoints with a Taliban checkpoint nearby.”
Mehmood also said the military is largely killing civilians, not Taliban fighters. “A majority of the people killed here are civilians.”
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