Taliban attack outpost in Mohmand

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.”

On March 8, the Taliban executed 14 paramilitary troops in Mohmand while the military claimed 15 Taliban fighters were killed during clashes.

Mohmand under command of able Taliban leader

Omar Khalid, the Taliban commander of Mohmand agency.

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.

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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  • Any claims the Pakistani military makes these days I tend to take with an armfull of salt. What does seem true is that the Taliban is on the move in all of these regions the Pakistani Army thought were “secure.” What is also amazing is that the Taliban seems to be causing all of these problems in areas like Mohmand with only a few hundred troops. Not thousands, but hundreds, and they are still winning! There must be huge local support for the Taliban if they can get these types of results with only a few hundred troops being transported by pickup trucks. And where is the Pakistani Army? Again, the Taliban attacked an outpost in Spinal Tangi manned by the paramilitary Mohmand Rifles of the Frontier Corps. The Taliban is smart in that they don’t seem to be targeting regular Army units, only paramilitary ones. I’m really beginning to think the government in Islamabad is worried that there will be open civil war in the Army if they ordered to crush the Taliban.
    I still think that Pakistan, as we know it today, only has a few more months to live before the government falls. All the Taliban need is one big “push,” or event, that will send the government over the edge and force the army to finally take sides on what it is they are going to do. You’ll probably know when the country is about to collapse if you follow the money. If you see the more affluent Pakistanis starting to leave (with their money) the country in large numbers, then you’ll know the game is almost over.

  • Whisperer says:

    No one should fool themselves into thinking there is a meaningful peace agreement with the Taliban. The Taliban have never adhered to any agreement made by Sufi Mohammed.

    The Darul Qaza is only a sideshow and it has nothing to do with peace. Court systems have never caused wars and the Pakistani court system has nothing to do with the Taliban invasions of Buner, Dir, Swat, Waziristan and other districts. To have a truthful understanding, but not a peace agreement, with the Taliban, one must talk to Muslim Khan. He will tell the truth. He will say he will not abide by the terms of the agreement. He is interested in Darul Qaza but he is not interested in the rest of the agreement. The Taliban will be keeping their weapons to invade other districts, as they always have done.

    The tribal areas were peaceful without Darul Qaza. They have only become violent with the arrival of the Taliban and al qaeda. They are the only cause of these continuous wars against government writ.

    The Taliban invade districts and wage their wars against the already peaceful inhabitants. Then they claim they will bring peace. Years ago, a peace treaty in Waziristan inspired the Taliban to invade and massacre tribesmen in the valley of Swat. Now the Taliban have another peace treaty in Swat. Under this treaty the Taliban have used Swat to invade other districts, and once again we hear them making calls for peace. The Taliban use peace agreements as a shield to wage their wars.

    It is ridiculous to think the Pakistani courts caused all these attacks and it is equally ridiculous to simply call off military action against the advancing Taliban. Sufi is the only one who has renounced violence. The Islamic State of Pakistan has only one valid peace agreement and it is only with one man – Sufi Mohammed.

  • Minnor says:

    There people have small arms in every house. Small arms i meant ak47, but rpg’s are deadly. Pak yet to clear Waziristan, where likely they make weapons, if not rpg’s.
    Good work in repulsing attack, i beleive pak army more than taliban claims. As per taliban they withdrew from Buner twice..

  • Robert says:

    You got use your reasoning to figure out when to believe army and when to believe Taliban. Depends on which is under pressure to lie.
    If the Army says “we don’t fight Taliban” you can believe them. If the Army says we killed 100 Taliban you don’t need to believe them.
    Same case with Taliban, when cornered they will lie. In regular war fare and body count I think the Taliban are more believable.

  • Jerjes Talpur says:

    well well, very strange you don’t believe Pak-Army and tend to think Talibans are more accurate, then why the hell this whole world is against them if they are more wise than, responsible nation and its law enforcement agencies ?
    Again lack of understanding, The demand of Nizam-e-adal and darul-qaza is not by talibans , they support it, but this is the demand of local tribal people, because by that they can make quick justice.
    Talibans are only fighters , and only can be handled through nizam-e-adal because they obey the justice through nizam-e-adal.
    Telling you very clearly Islam dont believe in extremism, and talibans are doing this because they have not justice system which they follow.
    Now when we will have the courts running by qazis the things will completely get ok, because taliban are not out of mind , their demand is legal , and that their demand can control them, This Nizam-e-adal is Controlling system for Taliban.

  • bard207 says:

    Now when we will have the courts running by qazis the
    things will completely get ok, because talibanare not out of mind , their demand is legal , and that their demand can control them, This Nizam-e-adal is Controlling system for Taliban.

    Because the Taliban — TTP are getting their way through violence rather than by a vote of all citizens.
    The supporters of the Peace Deals and other appeasement offers are unable to recognize that governmental bowing to violence breaks down the basic fabric of civilization.

  • AMac says:

    Jerjes Talpur —
    Could you make a couple of predictions, please?
    * In one month (on 3 June 2009), the Taliban control of Pakistani territory will be greater/the same/lesser than it is today.
    * In one month (on 3 June 2009), cease-fires and peace agreeements between the government of Pakistan and the Taliban (or its front groups) will cover more/the same/less territory than today.
    In this best of all possible worlds, what were your forecasts of 3 April 2009? How did they work out?

  • Robert says:

    Jerjes says “Telling you very clearly Islam dont believe in extremism…”
    You probably were brain washed by Zia’s Islamic education. Islam was spread by sword. There were wars from 7th century till 9th century invading Iran(Persia) till Sindh(now in Pak). It was during these two centuries Islam spread like a wildfire.
    I can get onto more details but that may offend the politically correct people here.
    As Samuel Huntington points out Islam is against the West as opposed to the cliche that “Islamic extremism is against the West”. He is spot on when he says that Muslims are convinced with the superiority of their culture(PC for religion) while obsessed with inferiority of their power. He also points out correctly that Islam has bloody borders.
    For starters the religion was started by a warlord. You don;t need to look beyond that.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    well well, very strange you don’t believe Pak-Army and tend to think Talibans are more accurate, then why the hell this whole world is against them if they are more wise than, responsible nation and its law enforcement agencies ?
    Frankly, I find it repulsive that I have to consider the Pakistani Taliban to be more reliable when it comes to the results of battles in the FATA/NWFP, but here we are. I’ve given you several blatant examples of the military lying about significant events that are easily disproved. I could cite dozens of other incidents in the past. Couple that with the dissembling over the ‘peace deals’ as well as claims it is negotiating with “locals” rather than the Taliban, when we all know what the TNSM is. I mean even the Pakistani government banned the TNSM and jailed Sufi.
    Now that being said, the Pakistani military may be correct about the outcome of the battle in Mohmand. We’ll see. But until that time comes, it is responsible to point out why we shouldn’t trust the military’s account alone.

  • Some VB says:

    So let me try to understand your argument.
    As of today, Pakistan is governed by two different laws. Those under Taliban control are governed by nizam-e-adal (sharia law). While the other half of the country is governed by the constitution which was created 62 years back. And you are telling me this is somehow good for Pakistan??? By believing this crap you have set a path for Taliban to force more conversions to Sharia. All Taliban has to do is occupy more land and thanks to your dopy political/army leadership, even more Pakistani citizens are being dragged under Sharia. And you claim this is good for any country, let alone Pakistan??
    I hope the Taliban dresses up the Pakistani leadership in hijab after they taken over Ibad. Maybe some public flogging is also in the order. Maybe… maybe then there will be some soul searching. Wait a minute, does the Pakistani leadership have any soul? The assembly wrote away the rights of half the country without even a debate!!!!

  • Spooky says:

    So then shall we start destroying all of the Islamic World since its relgion was started by a warlord and is evil and all that?
    It is one thing to not be politically correct. But to veer in the opposite extreme and over-generalize the enire Muslim world on the dealings of one of its sects as being all hateful of the west is just as foolish.
    Anyway, to the topic at hand, the Pakistan Army is not going to be able to reverse the Taliban advance in another week and a half. In a week and a half, things will be exactly as they are now (at best) and that is not taking into considerations the ongoing revolt in Balochistan and the Karachi riots. There is instability on three fronts, while the Army is focusing on the one front that is actually stable (India).
    The sad thing of it all is that the Army is involved in a gambit to discredit the PPP-led regime so that they can get back some public sympathy for the Musharraf blow out in 2007. Once they have that sympathy, they can start taking control again. Except this time, the other instituitions have degraded so much since Musharraf’s time, that military rule would probably be the straw that breaks the federation’s back. Balochistan especially would chaffe, considering it was in the last years of the Musharraf presidency that he started brutally suppressing Baloch autonomy/nationalist movements. That won’t fly these days.

  • Robert says:

    I just wanted to disabuse Jerjes of the notion that “Islam dont believe in extremism”. I supported it with some of my readings.
    I think you do not understand that the negation of “none” is “at least one”, not “all”. So by negating “Islam do not believe in extremism” I said that there are many(or at least one) instances of Islam encouraging extremism. Remember this is not generalization, generalization involves “all”. You need brush up your logic.
    What “we” shall do about Islamic world is not my business. However I know where I am secure, safe and free (including speech). That’s the West despite minor shortcomings.

  • Robert says:

    Minnor, Jerges et al,
    I think Bill has been generous to fault by saying that the Army is unreliable.
    Read “Descent into Chaos” and you will see hundreds of instances where Pak army cheated and double dealt, not just lied.
    If I were a Western citizen I would be so embarrassed that my Government was fooled so extensively for the last eight years by Pak army all the while gaining billions of dollars of US taxpayers money.
    Read the book and you will realize that Pak army is in bed with Taliban (and al Quida to some extent) more than it is in bed with the US. By 2006 the Pak Army captured dozens of al Quida “third in commend”. Major Taliban commanders were always tipped off before US attacks, supplied Taliban with all ammunition and money, sat silent while Taliban threatened media to run their propaganda, the list is endless.

  • Raven says:

    Talpur wrote:
    “Talibans are only fighters , and only can be handled through nizam-e-adal because they obey the justice through nizam-e-adal.”
    Here is your justice system meted-out just last week (from credible media source). Don’t forget the video proof…

  • Spooky says:

    First, you didn’t catch my sarcasm in my first statement. And if you did but answered back anyway, then well, you miss my point.
    You can have all the readings and argue all the semantics in the world, it does not differ from the fact that in your original statement, you were overgeneralizing an entire community, much in the same way that same community judges the West.
    It is better to stick to the issue at hand rather than feed trolls on cultural debate, because that leads to nothing but endless snipes from both sides.
    Anyway, anyone have any data on Taliban activities in Sindh outside of Karachi? Need the data for a map I’m making.

  • VedatTheTurk says:

    I will take up Amac’s comment and make a time line prediction. Any major offensive or “move” will have to be completed by Oct at the latest. Afterwards with the threat of winter all major movements are greatly restricted. Neither side can easily attack the other on land — though the Pak airforce has superiority of the air.
    What this means in a practical sense is that all Talib moves must be completed by this time. More importantly their positions for the winter must be properly secured as most escape routes are blocked. Basically what the Talibs have gained by Oct is what they are stuck with till 2110 March.
    If they have not been able to take Karachi in the next five months then the city is spared for another year or so. Both sides are very well aware of this and take it into account in their future plans — especially the Talibs who like most successful guerilla forces never take a significant area without first having a backup escape plan.

  • Tejaswi Aneja says:

    I am just curious to understand – how have you gone about building relationships on the ground in FATA and NWFP to know what the heck is exactly going on there.
    More than once, I have observed that while there are conflicting reports from Taliban and PAk army sources – eventually your take on the news comes out to be true.
    I have similar observations about //www.orbat.com run by Ravi – but can’t ask him this question since his blog does not provide interacts.
    – dude40000

  • Robert says:

    I understood the sarcasm, but I also wanted to answer it. Anyway I do not feel the “we” that you do, hence it is not my business what “we” do with the Islamic world.
    It is quite alright if the entire community judges the West in the same fashion. It is kind of what I was arguing that there is a Clash of Civilization going on despite some people burying their heads in sand.
    About generalizations, language and logic are all I have to communicate. Your rantings do not matter as long as I keep my ideas logical ad coherent. Anyway Huntington’s ideas fit the existing world better than that of PC gone wild.
    The irony is that the right wing argument is betting on logical which usually happens to be a shot in the arm for the left.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Tejaswi Aneja,
    Its a matter of reading a lot of news from sources that can be trusted, developing sources I can trust, studying the Taliban and al Qaeda and reading their propaganda, and talking to people I believe have a good handle on the situation and aren’t in the business for political reasons.
    Robert/Spooky, we prefer not to do the cultural debate here. Very little good comes of it and it diverts the comments well off topic. Let me be clear that I do understand the importance of this debate.

  • Render says:

    …and still I wait.

  • Bangash Khan says:

    Bill Roggio:
    The US/NATO has been making claims about killing Taliban every day, yet the war in Afghanistan has continued for eight years, so by your logic US/NATO must have been lying as well.
    The Pakistan Army can succeed in clearing Mohmand region, that doesn’t mean they kill or capture every single Taliban fighter. There is always capacity to launch a one-off attack. Additionally, because the US has failed so miserably to counter the drug trade, as well as control the Afghan side of the border, there is regular resupply of money, arms and militants to the Pakistani chapters of the Taliban.


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