Taliban and Pakistani military battle in Swat

The Pakistani military and the Taliban are battling in the Taliban-controlled districts of Swat and Buner. The Pakistani military claimed 37 Taliban fighters and four security personnel were killed in Swat and 27 more Taliban fighters were killed neighboring Buner.

The Taliban took over the town of Saidu Sharif late last night and occupied government offices and the homes of political figures, including the home of Swat’s District Coordination Officer.

Mingora, the main town in Swat, was also overrun by the Taliban. “Armed Taliban are patrolling the roads of Mingora and other areas,” the Pakistani military said. The military is attacking Taliban positions with helicopter gunships, Dawn reported.

The Taliban have come down from their bases in the surrounding mountains and began attacking police stations and checkpoints on Sunday after saying the peace agreement signed in February was dead. The Taliban are also seeding the area with roadside bombs.

“Militants in gross violation of peace accord, continued firing at various check posts of security forces in Kanju, Saidu Sharif, Matta and other areas of Swat,” the Pakistani military said in a press release. “Militants have planted IEDs in various areas of Swat to inflict causalities on security forces and civilians.”

The military claimed Taliban fighters were attacking security forces from the Emerald Mines. The military returned fire and claimed to have killed 35 Taliban fighters during the engagement.

The Taliban disputed the military’s account of casualties and claimed none of their fighters have been killed. Late last night, Daily Times reported that 21 people were killed in Swat, the large majority being civilians. The Pakistani military has been reporting high Taliban casualties, but as reports from Buner show, many of those reported killed are civilians attempting to flee the battlefield. The military has shot up cars filled with civilians and claimed they were suicide bombers.

Large numbers of civilians have begun to flee Swat in anticipation of a renewed military in the region. More than 50,000 civilians have left Swat already, and 500,000 of the district’s 1.5 million residents are expected to leave. Regular Army troops are said to have been moved to the region to renew the offensive in Swat; 6,000 troops or two brigades are rumored to have been deployed near Swat and Buner last week.

Background on fighting in Swat and the Malakand Accord

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 the wrest control of 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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  • tbrucia says:

    It sounds as though David Kilcullen’s wisdom isn’t going to be followed, i.e. maintain a 24-hour-a-day presence and protect the population (and headmen!)… Instead, the Pakistani Army, trained to fight a conventional war against the Indian Army, is doing the same thing the U.S. did in Vietnam: search and destroy, withdrawing and relinquishing control over the population just long enough so the insurgents could move in and assassinate any who cooperated with the government… Result: Waves of civilians fleeing free-fire zones…. Any comments???

  • Raj Kumar says:

    You are totally wrong. The Pakistan army is totally proficient in COIN operations. In the past it has taken on and defeated insurgency in both Sindh & Balocisthan. Similarly it had pretty much defeated the insurgency in what was then East Pakistan and is now Bangladesh but for the intervention of the Indians.
    The fact is that as this blog has highlighted a number of time the Pakistani Army is not interested in fighting the Taliban since it would split vertically and horizontally if it tried.
    The fact is that we are pretty much in the last qtr here and we will see the Taliban plant its black flag in Islamabad sooner rather than later.
    The interesting problem is that very soon we are going to get people in the State Department asking the question ‘How could we let Pakistan slide into the hands of the Talban’ a variation of this was asked in 1979 when Iran fell to the Mullah’s. The answer to this question is basically that the People of Pakistan & by extension the ruling class want the Taliban to take over and have actually facilitated their takeover much the same as Iran in 1979.
    I have lots of Iranian friends most of them exiles who now live in London and all of them say that they are seeing the same play book being played out in Pakistan.
    So enjoy the ride, it won’t be pretty because unlike 1979 Iran the Pakistani’s have Nukes!! and if the Talib’s get their hands on either the bomb or the fissile material then world is in for a very hard time.
    Is their a answer I don’t think so. The point of no return was passed long time ago.

  • Zalmay says:

    “The Pakistan army is totally proficient in COIN operations. ”
    Every analysis has said otherwise, but Raj Kumar knows best!

  • Robert says:

    Ra Kumar my or may not know best, but Pak Army did put down insurgency in Balochistan in 70s, and again recently, and almost put down the insurgency in 1971 in Bangladesh(then East Pak).
    You can take a horse to water but….

  • Spooky says:

    Only by brutally murdering thousands. Thats not COIN, thats just genocide. Same ends, sure, but in an idealogical battle like this, that just shoots them in the foot.
    PA needs more finesse if it wants any sort of success, and they don’t have it. Leveling villages will not win them the support of their own people.

  • RogerSt says:

    The Fox News Ticker referenced this post.

  • NS says:

    Similarly it had pretty much defeated the insurgency in what was then East Pakistan and is now Bangladesh but for the intervention of the Indians.
    What Pakistan did in 1971 was pure genocide – Bengalis who supported Mujibur Rehman were openly killed – Rehman won elections by a landslide but the Pakistani govt refused to recognize his election.
    The Indian Army was then led by Sam Bahadur Manekshaw who withstood pressure from Indian PM Indira Gandhi to attack Pakistani forces right away – Bangla refugees were pouring in. How ever, Manekshaw wanted time for preparations and monsoons to go away to facilitate troop movement.
    Unfortunately, the genocide did keep going on for quite some time.

  • Minnor says:

    “Pakistan gives no quarter to anyone” telegraph says, quoting Bajaur destruction . This rather makes their task more difficult. With no option to surrender, militants go for suicide attack.
    US providing 5 helicopters, hope it helps reducing military and civilian casualties.
    Emerald mine is finally taken back after 3 months. By killing militants and civilians there indiscriminately.

  • Minnor says:

    To add to suicide attacks, Pak’s no quarter policy results in no arrests for interrogation meaning hardly any intelligence gathered.

  • Dawn is reporting : “Sufi Mohammad’s son Kifyatullah has been killed in shelling during the security forces’ operation in Lower Dir’s Maidan area.”

  • tbrucia says:

    The comments here highlight the questions I have: (1) is the Pakistani Army in danger of splitting? (2) what is their (and our) concept of COIN? (3) is indiscriminate air attack productive or anti-productive in COIN? (4) do either the US or the Pakistani Army care about how Pakistani civilians are harmed? …. As events play out, we shall have each of the questions answered….. Pakistan is now a laboratory….

  • tbrucia says:

    If indeed, “the elected authorities within Pakistan have given the military a green signal to do as they want,” and “the military action has complete legitimacy for whatever it does inside Pakistan,” then the war is lost…. Indiscriminate and unfocused violence indicates inept generalship… Pakistan needs a Petraeus — and I don’t know if it has one!

  • Neo says:

    At this point the name of the game is survival. The Pakistani government & army have backed themselves up into a corner. This isn’t about geographical isolation, most of Pakistan outside of the northern and western mountains is still under government control. This is a confidence test. Can the Pakistani security forces mount a serious campaign against the Taliban and defend the government? This is about the soul of the Pakistani military.
    This isn’t going to be pretty. The Pakistani militaries methods are blunt and brutal. Thoughts of defeating the Taliban are something for the future. The immediate question is whether the security forces will fight and there will be a future for the Pakistani government. If the military won’t fight all long term questions are irrelevant.
    At best, the current campaign will be sloppy and brutal. I have no doubt it will in the longer term exacerbate frustration with the government. The government is creating new enemies as they bring the battle to their enemies, but so be it. They aren’t in a position to be picky about how carefully they go about it. It this point, I am more worried about the security forces avoiding large scale ambushes. I fear that it wouldn’t take much of a defeat to crack the security forces.

  • AMac says:

    The ethnic compositions of the Taliban fighters in Swat, the region’s civilians, and the government militia and Army units is going to loom large in the aftermath of this action (assuming some sort of draw rather than an outright government defeat).
    Apologizing in advance for my ignorance and inviting correction, my understanding is that the core of Taliban support comes from the Pashtun tribal areas, and that most of their fighters in Swat are thus likely to be Pashtun.
    As far as I know, most soldiers and officers in the Army are Punjabis, followed by Sindhis.
    Are the civilians in settled areas like Mingora and in the countryside mostly or entirely Pashtun? Or is this a homeland of a different ethnic (linguistic?) group? If Pashtun, the consensus among Pashtuns will likely be that the campaign was “an attack by outsiders on us.” The high civilian casualties will be taken as evidence of callousness by Punjabi and Sindhis.
    On the other hand, if Swat is populated by non-Pashtuns, civilians in the areas might curse the Taliban for the casualties, seeing the Pashtun outsiders as the villians of the piece.
    And then there is the question of how the offensive is viewed in Karachi, Islamabad, and Rawalpindi, and whether ethnic sympathies figure into that.

  • Neo says:

    SWAT is majority Pashtun and Maulana Fazlullah has his ardent followers amoung the poor. I wouldn’t be too quick to draw conclusions strictly based on ethnicity. The history of SWAT is very different than Waziristan. SWAT has a largely peaceful history. As a former princely state, it benefited from a long history of stable alliances with the governments of India than Pakistan. Waziristan by contrast has been controlled by warlike clans for much of its history and has only recently be marginally controlled by the Pakistani government.
    In SWAT Maulana Fazlullah has his base of support among the poor and disfranchised. Outside of that he uses coercion against the majority of the Swati population. Unlike much of the wild northwest, SWAT is a civilized place that has benefited from modernization and contact with the outside world. The Taliban’s presence in SWAT is as much an occupation as an uprising. Many Swati’s are very resentful at what they see as an influx of ignorant and uncivilized savages from the Pakistani fronter.
    If the Pakistani security had some backbone, they could find many advantages in the situation. The Swati’s realize that the place has gone to the devil and would probably put up with a fair amount of “collateral damage”

  • David M says:

    The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 05/07/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

  • bnelson44 says:

    Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani on Thursday announced the formal deployment of troops in Malakand Division to eliminate insurgency from the area expressing firm resolve that the government will take stern action against militant and terrorist element.
    In a televised address to the nation, the Prime Minister also said that one billion rupees have been provided for the rehabilitation of the internally displaced persons.
    He announced employment will be provided to one member of a family which has lost any of its member at the hands of terrorists.
    The Prime Minister said the above decisions were taken after holding consultations with the political parties and other stakeholders.
    He said although the government adopted the path of talks and negotiations to resolve Swat issue the terrorist elements continued to challenge the writ of the government.

  • tbrucia says:

    Not a good sign when tens or hundreds of thousands flee after the Pakistani army begins operations…. Turning people into refugees radicalizes them…. (If an artillery bombardment devastated your neighborhood, would you thank the military for clearing it of criminals??)


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