The Pakistani military has encountered tougher resistance than it has reported since it took on the Taliban in the Swat Valley in late April, according to a classified intelligence briefing given to the senior-most Indian military leaders. The tough fighting has caused cracks in some of the military units, but the force has not broken.
The secret briefing was recently delivered by the Indian Defense Staff to the Chiefs of Staff Committee, the equivalent to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Two pages of the briefing, labeled “SIT IN FATA,” or the situation in the FATA [Federally Administered Tribal Agency], have been obtained by The Long War Journal. Elements of this briefing were reported by India Today on June 16.
US intelligence officials told The Long War Journal the Indian assessment is “accurate.”
The Indian assessment said that more than 370 soldiers have been killed and some soldiers have deserted since the operation against Mullah Fazlullah’s Taliban forces in Swat, Dir, and Buner began almost two months ago. India Today put the number of soldiers that have deserted at more than 900.
The Pakistani military has reported only 120 soldiers have been killed during the operation, while claiming more than 1,500 Taliban fighters, or more than 20 percent of the estimated Taliban fighters in Swat, have been killed. The numbers cannot be confirmed as the military has conducted a virtual media blackout in the Swat Valley. In the past, US military sources have described the Taliban casualty figures to The Long War Journal as “wildly exaggerated,” and have put the latest estimate of Taliban killed at around 500.
“Infighting/mutinous conditions” exist in some Pakistani Army units, according to the report. “Incidence of mutiny” has been reported in three of the 22 brigades fighting in the northwest. The report identified the units as the Parachinar and Kohat Brigades from XI Corps, and the Turbat Brigade from XII Corps. There have been six incidences of fratricide or open violence between soldiers in the three named brigades, and the military has “requisitioned psych advisors for embedding” into the units.
The Pakistani Army is “conducting major ops” in the northwest but the top leadership of the Taliban and al Qaeda operating in the region are “still intact” due to “poor HUMINT [human intelligence] and lack of local support.” Of the 21 senior Taliban leaders identified by the Pakistani government as wanted, none have been killed or captured. The military claims the second and third tier leaders of the Swat Taliban have suffered significant losses.
The operations have been described as “successful in some areas” but the Army has “alienated” the local population. Civilians fleeing the region have reported that the Army has used heavy-handed tactics such as indiscriminate artillery and airstrikes against civilians.
Pakistani Army has suffered worse in the past
While the Indian assessment paints a bleak picture of the state of the Pakistani military, the force has suffered worse in the past, and has held as a cohesive unit during the current operation.
An estimated 22,000 soldiers are reported to have been deployed in Swat, putting the desertion rate at around six percent, a high number but not a crippling one given that some of the soldiers have been recruited from the areas where they are fighting.
During past operations, desertions have been reported to have numbered in the thousands. During an operation against the Abdullah Mehsud-led Taliban in South Waziristan in 2004, heavy fighting and a fatwa, or religious edict, are thought to have contributed to the abandonment of the offensive and the signing of the first of many failed peace agreements.
The fatwa, which was issued by Red Mosque leaders Maulana Abdul Aziz and Ghazi Abdul Rasheed, stated that Pakistani soldiers killed while fighting against the Taliban and al Qaeda in South Waziristan did not deserve a Muslim funeral or a burial at Muslim cemeteries. This fatwa had an impact on Pakistani soldiers and many refused to fight or abandoned their units.
The military has also sustained the offensive in Swat, Dir and Buner, and has expanded operations into Mohmand, Bajaur, Arakzai, Bannu, and Hangu. Some of these forays, such as in Hangu and Arakzai, have consisted of punitive air and artillery strikes, however.
The military is also in the opening stages of an offensive in South Waziristan. The Army and Air Force are conducting strikes against Baitullah Mehsud’s forces, but appear to have chosen not to confront the other three powerful commanders. But the military is still preparing to march into the teeth of the Taliban in South Waziristan, indicating that while the Army may have been bloodied, it hasn’t been broken.
Are you a dedicated reader of FDD's Long War Journal? Has our research benefitted you or your team over the years? Support our independent reporting and analysis today by considering a one-time or monthly donation. Thanks for reading! You can make a tax-deductible donation here.