Baitullah Mehsud from a Taliban video. Click image to view the slideshow of the Taliban Leadership in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
A suicide bomber killed two paramilitary security personnel in an attack in the Taliban-controlled tribal agency of South Waziristan. Four more security personnel were beheaded and three more were seriously wounded in an attack in Pakistan’s violent northwest.
The suicide bomber rammed into a security checkpoint manned by the paramilitary Khasadar force near the main town of Miranshah in North Waziristan on Tuesday, killing two and seriously wounding three other troops. The military responded by launching a helicopter attack on a vehicle in the Miramshah bazaar, and claimed four Taliban fighters were killed.
A Taliban commander took credit for the suicide strike and warned of further attacks. “We carried out the suicide attack and will continue to target security forces until drone attacks and the military operation against Taliban are stopped,” the unnamed commander told AFP.
The Taliban in North Waziristan, led by Hafiz Gul Bahadar, ended a peace agreement with the military after demanding an end to military operations in Waziristan and the withdrawal of the Army from the region. Bahadar also called for the end of US Predator strikes against Taliban and al Qaeda camps and safe houses in the region. Bahadar’s forces have ambushed military convoys and attacked bases, but the military insists the ceasefire is still in effect.
The Taliban also targeted security forces in Peshawar, Mohmand, Swat, and Khyber. In Mohmand, the mutilated bodies of two paramilitary Frontier Corps troopers were discovered in a graveyard. The Taliban had beheaded the bodies. The two troopers had been kidnapped in Mohmand back in May. The Taliban also beheaded a Frontier Corps trooper in Khyber and a policeman in Swat.
The military is wrapping up a three-month-long operation in Swat, and claims the Taliban have been defeated there. In March, the military had also claimed the Taliban were defeated in Mohmand, after running battles with the Taliban during the winter. But the Taliban have continued to attack security forces in Swat and Mohmand.
In Peshawar, three policemen were seriously wounded after their vehicle was ambushed in the middle of the night. One person was detained but “police were yet to ascertain” if he and his accomplices are Taliban fighters. The Taliban have conducted numerous attacks against security forces and civilian targets in Peshawar. The Taliban have also attacked NATO convoys destined for Afghanistan at terminals on the outskirts of Peshawar.
Waziristan operation on hold despite continued attacks on security forces
Pakistani officials have made conflicting statements about Pakistan’s posture toward Bahadar and other Taliban commanders in the Waziristan region, including Mullah Nazir in South Waziristan and the Haqqanis in North Waziristan.
A Pakistani intelligence official claimed that Nazir, Bahadar, and the Haqqanis have been put on notice to drop support for Baitullah or be prepared to face the military in battle.
“The Taliban commanders have been clearly told that the security forces will not hesitate from operations against all of them if they decided to side with Baitullah who is responsible for dozens of suicide bombings and other gory acts of subversion on Pakistani soil,” an official told The Nation.
But a host of statements from Pakistani officials, both on and off the record, indicate the opposite is true.
The military, which considers Bahadar, Nazir, and the Haqqanis “good Taliban” and as strategic assets in Afghanistan, has openly said it wants to keep these commanders on the sidelines while it takes out Baitullah Mehsud, the overall leader of the Pakistani Taliban. The Pakistanis have long considered Bahadar, Nazir, and the Haqqanis “good” or “pro-government” Taliban because they did not advocate fighting the Pakistani military but rather focused their efforts against the Coalition in Afghanistan. But Nazir, Bahadar, and the Haqqanis, like Baitullah, openly support al Qaeda and host training camps for the terror groups as well as for the numerous Pakistani jihadi groups. These three groups also provide fighters to serve in the Lashkar al Zil, al Qaeda’s paramilitary Shadow Army that operates along the Afghan and Pakistani border areas.
The military’s plan to keep Bahadar and Nazir on the bench failed after the Taliban commanders, with the backing and encouragement of the powerful Haqqani family, said they would back Baitullah and provide he and his forces safe passage. The military’s plan for South Waziristan suffered another blow after Zainuddin Mehsud, a “good” Taliban rival to Baitullah, was assassinated by one of Baitullah’s agents. Zainuddin was attempting to recruit an anti-Baitullah militia and convince the Mehsud tribes to side with him.
The military has refused so far to enter South Waziristan on the ground in force, and instead has relied on air power and an economic blockade to defeat Baitullah. There are even reports that the government has opened secret negotiations with Baitullah.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik claimed that Baitullah’s network is “being targeted with precision.” Pakistani jets and helicopters have struck at Taliban positions in Baitullah’s tribal areas on a regular basis, and the military routinely claims to kill handfuls of Taliban fighters after each attack.
The Pakistani government has put out bounties for the capture or death of Baitullah and 10 of his senior commanders operating in the lawless tribal agencies. But Nazir, Bahadar, and the Haqqanis were noticably excluded from the list, indicating that the government still does not intend to take on these Taliban commanders.
Background on recent fighting in North and South Waziristan
The Pakistani military has avoided directly confronting the Taliban in North and South Waziristan after suffering a string of humiliating defeats there between 2004 and 2008. The most recent operations in Waziristan resulted in peace agreements that have ceded control of the region to the Taliban.
The last time the Pakistani military took on the Taliban in North Waziristan was in October 2007. The Pakistani military and the Taliban fought pitched battles after the military launched artillery barrages and helicopter and attack aircraft assaults against Taliban-controlled villages in North Waziristan.
The Taliban responded by setting up complex ambushes, including surface-to-air missile traps, a senior US military intelligence official told The Long War Journal. Several Pakistani Army helicopters were said to have been shot down during the fighting. The Pakistani military claimed that 120 Taliban and 45 soldiers were killed in the fighting, but independent reports put the number of soldiers killed much higher.
At the end of October 2007, the government pushed for a peace deal, and the fighting waned. The Taliban, led by the Haqqani Network and Hafiz Gul Bahadar, remained entrenched in the region. In February 2008, an official peace agreement was signed.
The last major operation against the Taliban in South Waziristan took place in late January 2008. The military launched an offensive with the declared aim of dislodging Baitullah Mehsud’s forces from entrenched positions. Prior to the military’s offensive, the Taliban overran two military forts and conducted numerous attacks against Pakistani forces. More than a dozen of Pakistan’s elite counterterrorism commandos were killed in a single engagement.
The military claimed to have ejected the Taliban from strongholds in Kotkai and Jandola, and said it killed Qari Hussain. Hussain later mocked the government during a press conference in May 2008.
Just 11 days after the fighting in South Waziristan had begun, the military sued for peace. The Taliban retook control of Jandola four months later, after murdering dozens from a rival tribe while the military looked on. The military has since abandoned several forts in South Waziristan and has kept activity there to a minimum.
Taliban forces belonging to Baitullah, Mullah Nazir, Hafiz Gul Bahadar, and the Haqqanis, led by Jalaluddin’s son Sirajuddin, have only grown stronger since defeating the Pakistani military during engagements in 2007 and 2008. Tens of thousands of fighters are under the collective command of these leaders.
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