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 Taliban attacked a military outpost in the Mohmand tribal agency, sparking a fierce battle in a region the military claimed a major victory just two months ago.
A company-sized Taliban force of more than 100 fighters attacked the military outpost in Spinal Tangi manned by the paramilitary Mohmand Rifles of the Frontier Corps. The Taliban and the military have released conflicting reports of the battle.
The military claimed 16 Taliban fighters and two troops were killed during the battle, and the military repelled the assault. “Our security forces returned fire after coming under attack, and when the insurgents escaped they left the bodies of 13 of their comrades,” Syed Ahmad Jan, a senior administrator in Mohmand, told Dawn.
But Ikramullah Mohmand, a Taliban spokesman, denied the government’s account and said eight troops and only one of his fighters was killed, and five soldiers were wounded. Khan claimed the Taliban overran the outpost and fighting was ongoing.
Just two days ago, the Taliban overran a Frontier Levies checkpoint in the district of Dir, where an operation is currently underway. The Taliban later released the ten captive Levies.
Pakistani military’s reports are unreliable
The military’s claim should be met with skepticism; its spokesmen have been untruthful about similar incidents in the past. Two of the more blatant examples of the military’s less than forthcoming statements are related to Taliban attacks on Pakistani troops in South Waziristan during 2007 and 2008.
In August 2007, Baitullah Mehsud’s Taliban forces in South Waziristan captured an entire company of about 300 regular Army troops as they were patrolling through the tribal agency. The Pakistani military denied this and initially claimed the troops were merely sheltering in a valley due to bad weather after losing communications, but it was later confirmed that a company-sized unit driving in 17 vehicles was captured by Mehsud’s forces. After backtracking, the military claimed about 110 troops were captured. But after the Taliban displayed the soldiers to a BBC television crew, it was confirmed 300 troops were captured.
In another incident in January 2008, the Taliban overran the Saklatoi Fort in South Waziristan, but the military emphatically denied the reports. “Absolutely baseless and I reject this report,” Major General Athar Abbas, the Pakistani military spokesman, said at the time. “I want to clarify that the Pakistan Army and the Frontier Corps personnel are still present in the fort.” Two days later, Abbas briefed the media on the military’s successful operation to retake the Saklatoi Fort.
The Pakistani military has claimed it killed numerous senior al Qaeda and Taliban leaders in the past during operations in the tribal areas. But the leaders have held press conferences or released propaganda tapes mocking the military for falsely reporting their deaths.
Military claimed Mohmand was cleared two months ago
On March 1, a senior Pakistani officer said the Taliban was defeated during a series of security operations in Mohmand. Colonel Saif Ullah claimed the region is “under the control of law enforcement agencies” and the Taliban had been ejected from Mohmand.
But the heavy fighting in Mohmand since March 1 belies this claim. There have been several major battles in Mohmand since the military declared victory. And the Taliban’s ability to amass more than 100 fighters for an attack also hurts the military’s case.
On April 5, the military claimed it killed 18 Taliban fighters during a “fullfledged military operation” by Pakistani troops backed by helicopter gunships and attack aircraft. Five kidnapped troops were also freed. Security forces claimed to have killed 8 Taliban fighters on April 4.
On March 28, the military said 26 Taliban fighters were killed during operations that included artillery and air strikes. On March 12, the military claimed 18 Taliban fighters were killed after “helicopter gunships, jets and artillery pounded and destroyed several militant hideouts in various areas of Mohmand.”
Mohmand under command of able Taliban leader
The Mohmand Taliban are commanded by Omar Khalid, who is a deputy of Baitullah Mehsud’s Taliban movement. He is considered one of the most effective and powerful leaders in the tribal areas after Baitullah and Hakeemullah Mehsud.
Khalid gained prominence in Mohmand during the summer of 2007 after taking over a famous shrine and renaming it the Red Mosque, after the radical mosque in Islamabad whose followers attempted to impose sharia in the capital.
The Mohmand Taliban took control of the tribal agency after the Pakistani government negotiated a peace agreement with the extremists at the end of May 2008. The deal required the Taliban to renounce attacks on the Pakistani government and security forces. The Taliban said it would maintain a ban on the activities of nongovernment organizations in the region but agreed not to attack women in the workplace if they wear the veil. Both sides exchanged prisoners.
The Taliban promptly established a parallel government in Mohmand. Sharia or Islamic courts were formed and orders were given for women to wear the veil in public. “Criminals” were rounded up and judged in sharia courts. Women were ordered to have a male escort at all times and prevented from working on farms. The Taliban also kidnapped members of a polio vaccination team.
Khalid became the dominant Taliban commander in Mohmand in July 2008 after defeating the Shah Sahib group, a rival pro-Taliban terror group with ties to the Lashkar-e-Taiba. The military claimed it killed Khalid in January of this year, but the Taliban denied the report and he has since surfaced.