Pakistan kills 63 extremists in Khyber airstrikes

Mangal Bagh. Click to view images of the senior leaders of the extremist groups operating in the Khyber agency.

The Pakistani military said 63 more than extremists were killed during operations against the Lashkar-e-Islam in Khyber on the fifth day of operations in the tribal agency. Today’s reported casualties put the number of Lashkar-e-Islam fighters killed in the operations more than 120.

Pakistani aircraft targeted strongholds of the Lashkar-e-Islam in the Tirah Valley, killing 63 fighters during separate engagements. The Lashkar-e-Islam is commanded by Mangal Bagh Afridi, who has established a Taliban-like state in regions of Khyber.

“Our forces targeted a headquarters of Lashkar-e-Islam and about 15 militants were killed in the attack,” a spokesman for the paramilitary Frontier Corps told Dawn. More fighters were reported killed during other strikes.

On Sept. 1, the Pakistani military launched an operation against the Lashkar-e-Islam, and has been razing the homes of Lashkar-e-Islam fighters and commanders.

The military has claimed that 124 Lashkar-e-Islam fighters and leaders have been killed and scores more captured since the operation began five days ago. On the first day, the military claimed to have killed 40 fighters. Sixteen fighters were reported killed on Sept. 2, and five more, including a commander, were reported killed on Sept. 4.

The military has said it will continue the operation in the valley until the government’s writ is restored, and will then pursue the Lashkar-e-Islam into the mountains, where many of the group’s fighters have taken shelter.

“The militants, who have fled to the mountains, will be targeted once the writ of the government is restored in the plain areas,” an anonymous Pakistani official told The News.

Mangal Bagh has issued a statement on his illegal FM radio station warning the government to end the operation or he will allow Taliban forces to enter the region, presumably to fight alongside the Lashkar-e-Islam.

Background on Pakistani operations in Khyber since 2008

The current offensive in Khyber is the latest in a series of clearing operations in the strategic tribal agency since June 2008.

The June 2008 operation purportedly targeted the Lashkar-e-Islam, the Ansar-ul-Islam, and a small group called the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. These three groups were banned by the government, and the military began rounding up members and destroying hideouts.

But Haji Namdar, the leader of the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice who allied with Mangal Bagh’s Lashkar-e-Islam, was seen riding along with the Frontier Corps. “He was taken along to ensure that encounters with militants were kept to a minimum,” the Asia Times reported. Government officials stated at the onset of the operation that the offensive would be limited in scope and was a “show of force.”

Ten days after the operation began, the government signed a peace agreement with the Lashkar-e-Islam. All prisoners taken captive during the operation were released.

The military also launched operations in Khyber in December 2008 and January 2009 in an attempt to clear the Taliban and allied extremists groups from the region, relieve pressure on the provincial capital of Peshawar, and keep the Khyber Pass open to traffic moving to and from Afghanistan. In July, Pakistani aircraft conducted strikes against Taliban camps in Khyber’s Tirah Valley.

Despite these operations, the Taliban has succeeded in forcing the closure of the Khyber Pass seven times since September 2007. More than 700 NATO supply and fuel trucks, as well as vehicles and equipment, have been destroyed in a series of attacks in Khyber and neighboring Peshawar. The Khyber Pass is NATO’s main conduit for supplies into Afghanistan; more than 70 percent of the supplies move through this strategic crossing point.

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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  • Render says:

    “…he will allow Taliban forces to enter the region, presumably to fight alongside the Lashkar-e-Islam.”
    My understanding was that LeI was already The Taliban, or at least a faction thereof.
    Regardless, if they are not, does this mean that LeI wasn’t allowing the Talib to operate in Khyber previously, or that all of those previous attacks weren’t really Talib after all? If not then whom?

  • Neo says:

    This does look like a fairly large scale punitive action, irregardless of whether the casualty numbers are correct. The Tirah Valley is fairly remote and the Pakistani government has never really had control over the area. I doubt if clear and hold operations are feasible. Without local participation, clearing the area is only a temporary measure. With this being so close to Taliban core areas, cooperation with the government would be suicidal for the locals.
    This action does knock Laskar-e-Islam back on it’s heals and relieve some of the pressure on Peshawar. No doubt attacks on the Khyber Pass will continue, but I don’t anticipate the Taliban and it’s allies taking the area. That’s an incremental improvement in the situation, but an improvement none the less. The Pakistani army needs to keep hitting them where they are most exposed, while trying to minimize their own exposure.

  • David M says:

    The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 09/05/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.


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