Swat Taliban leader ‘alive, healthy and has never been wounded’ – spokesman

pakistan_fazlullah.jpg

Mullah Qari Fazlullah.

The chief spokesman for the Swat Taliban claimed that Mullah Qari Fazlullah is alive and said that the Taliban are prepared to retake Swat once the winter settles in. Meanwhile, the Taliban confirmed that Fazlullah’s deputy was killed during fighting last year.

“Taliban chief Fazlullah is alive, healthy and has never been wounded,” Muslim Khan told AFP.

Khan said the Swat Taliban leadership is intact and has gone underground to avoid the military operation.

“All of the Taliban leadership in Swat are alive and are in hiding with a strategy,” Khan continued, echoing statements made last week by Maulvi Omar, the chief spokesman for Baitullah Mehsud’s Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan.

“We will continue our jihad until the enforcement of Islamic sharia,” Khan said. “Army artillery and tanks cannot prevent us from achieving our objective.” Khan said the Taliban will retake Swat once the winter sets in and the routes become difficult for the military to use.

Last weekend, Fazlullah was heard on the radio for the first time after months of silence. Fazlullah threatened to punish Swat tribesmen who aided the military and government during the Swat offensive.

Fazlullah’s broadcasts are infamous for the anti-government screeds and the radical interpretations of Islam. He is nicknamed “Mullah FM” and “Radio Mullah” for pioneering the use of illegal radio broadcasts to promote his radical agenda.

The statements from Omar and Khan, and Fazlullah’s radio broadcast, put a dent in the military’s claim that Fazlullah was gravely wounded during fighting near his home town. The military said it obtained the information using signals intercepts.

Shah Doran confirmed killed

At least one senior Swat Taliban leader has been killed during the military offensive to clear the Taliban from Swat and the neighboring districts of Dir and Buner at the end of April.

In June, the Pakistani military said Shah Doran was killed during fighting in the Kabal region in Swat. Earlier this week, the Taliban confirmed Doran’s death, according to a report in AKI. Nearly two months ago, at the end of May, the Pakistani government had issued a $185,000 bounty for the capture of Doran.

Doran was Fazlullah’s deputy and was notorious for preaching radical, anti-government sermons on the Taliban’s radio programs. He also served as the senior military commander in Swat.

Doran is the only Taliban commander on the government’s wanted list to have been killed or captured. Fazlullah has a $616,500 bounty, while Muslim Khan and Ibn Amim, like Doran, have $185,000 bounties on their heads. Seventeen other Taliban commanders from Swat who have had bounties issued for their capture are still on the loose.

Since Doran’s death, Ibn Amim has been put in charge of the Taliban’s forces in Swat. Ibn Amin is the leader of the Tora Bora Brigade, one of the six known brigades in al Qaeda’s paramilitary Shadow Army. The Tora Bora Brigade has an estimated 1,500 fighters and participated in the invasion of neighboring Buner.

The Swat Taliban are estimated to have between 5,000 and 7,000 fighters in their ranks. The military claimed to have killed nearly 1,800 in Swat and neighboring Buner and Dir, while taking more than 160 casualties of its own. US intelligence officials have said the Pakistani estimates of enemy casualties are highly exaggerated and include civilians caught in the crossfire.

Background on the Malakand Accord and fighting in Swat

The fighting in Swat, Dir, Buner, and Shangla broke out earlier this year after a peace agreement with the Taliban failed. The agreement, known as the Malakand Accord, placed the Malakand Division and the district of Kohistan under the control of the Taliban. The Malakand Division comprises the districts of Malakand, Swat, Shangla, Buner, Dir, and Chitral. Together with the neighboring Kohistan district, the Malakand Division encompasses nearly one-third of the Northwest Frontier Province.

The government signed the Malakand Accord with Taliban front man Sufi Mohammed, Fazlullah’s father-in-law, on Feb. 16 after two years of fighting that had put the Taliban in control of the district. During those two years, the military was defeated three separate times while attempting to wrest control from 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 Malakand Division.

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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7 Comments

  • Neo says:

    I’d give this a mixed response, quite honestly. We all agree that the Taliban will make an attempt to retake SWAT, or at least harass the Pakistani Army in some major way. That has been a given since the Taliban can filter in from adjacent areas. Muslim Khan sets this winter as a timeframe for ramping up insurgent activity in the area. Actually, that is quit a while, considering the last time the Taliban moved to retake SWAT it took a few months. More than a month ago the Taliban spoke on this they indicated that they expected to regroup in about five weeks. It’s already been more than five weeks since.
    Before we get too much into Fazlullah’s recovery, we need to ask solid questions about what did happen during the SWAT offensive and what are their current capabilities. The leadership of the Swat Taliban are intact for the most part, but I do wonder how things went for the rank and file. First, I don’t think the Taliban really expected a real military campaign against them. I think they expected the usual half hearted “song and dance routine”

  • Raven says:

    Neo:
    Thanks for the excellent analysis. It’s true that CI’s will take years and Pak Army’s immediate threat to core of the country, Islamabad/Punjab, is lessened, we will see round 2 of this in few years!.

  • MZBH says:

    Excellent analysis Neo.
    Complacency or room to breathe and close out existing fronts, we’ll find out soon enough I suppose.

  • ramsis says:

    Neo:
    Good analysis! Is the Taliban plan to wait until winter sets in a shift in strategy? Usually it seemed the Taliban spent winters planning for a spring offensive. Also how do guage the ability of Swat tribesmen to resist the Taliban should they find themselves confronted this winter.

  • Neo says:

    “Is the Taliban plan to wait until winter sets in a shift in strategy?”

  • yash says:

    Taliban are just biding their time. Have you ever seen an insurjency being defeated by artillery shells ? This Pak action is just to extract money from US.

  • ArneFufkin says:

    As much as I appreciate the inimitable reports from Bill and his colleagues, I appreciate the thoughtful and insightful contributions of posters like Neo, Render and others here equally. This is a must-read site for anyone who cares about events in this crucial and perilous region: Which should number all who value liberty, security and prosperity.

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