Pakistani military launches operation in Khyber

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

The Pakistani military has launched an operation against extremists operating in the Khyber tribal agency. The operation was launched after a suicide bomber killed 22 border guards at the Torkham crossing last week.

More than 40 extremists were killed, including two commanders, and another 43 were captured, according to Tariq Hayat, the Political Agent for Khyber. Three “militant bases” were destroyed, according to a press release by the paramilitary Frontier Corps, while an indefinite curfew has been imposed in the region.

The military is relying heavily on artillery and Cobra helicopter gunships instead of engaging the extremists on the ground, according to reports received by The Long War Journal. Only three soldiers have been wounded during the operation, claims the military.

The military would not name the group or groups that are the target of the operation. According to Geo News the operation “is being carried out against miscreants not against any specific person or a group.”

The operation was launched in the Bara region in Khyber, the stronghold of the Lashkar-e-Islam, a pro-Taliban group led by Mangal Bagh Afridi. He is reported to be listed by the interior ministry as one of the top ten most-wanted extremist leaders. During the operation, the father of a Lashkar-e-Islam commander was detained, and a spokesman for the group has called for the military to end the offensive.

Two other extremist groups are known to operate in the region. The Ansar-ul-Islam, a rival extremist group, operates in Khyber, as does the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. Hakeemullah Mehsud, the new leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, commanded forces in Khyber and was behind many of the attacks against NATO supply convoys moving through the region.

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 succeeded in forcing the closure the Khyber Pass seven times since September 2007. More 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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  • Caroe says:

    Thank you for the excellent article, Bill. You describe Laskar-e-Islam as “pro-Taliban”. Could you elaborate on this? To my knowledge LeI has so far resisted pressure to join the TTP. What level of cooperation exists between the two groups? Also, do you think this is a genuine crackdown? Previous operations in Bara have been largely conducted as a show of force. Also, what role is the late Haji Namdar’s group now playing in Khyber? It seems to me that the Pakistani army can ill afford to open another front in Khyber against non-TTP groups when it is still attempting to secure Swat and conducting a limited offensive on South Waziristan.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Thank you, Sam.
    LI is pro-Taliban in that they share the same goals (sharia state, anti-government, attack NATO in Afghanistan, etc.), however yes they have resisted efforts at integration into the TTP. The US and Pakistan have conducted attacks on TTP camps in the Tirah Valley, a stronghold of the LI. These camps would have to at least have the approval of the LI to exist.
    Is the operation genuine? Hard to say. I think Swat was a genuine attempt to restore government order. If this op ends like the July 2008 op, then the answer obviously is no. I don’t see the Pak military doing a clear and hold here, my guess is it is punitive, but that is only a guess, not enough info.
    Haji Namdar’s groups essentially rolled into LI.
    I am of the mind that a sustained, wide offensive against all Taliban strongholds is need to defeat the Taliban militarily. Otherwise you get what you’ve gotten in the past – Taliban melt away, regroup in adjoining areas, then move back in. AKA whack a mole. The problem is the Pak government doesn’t have the capacity to handle the IDPs and economic/political issues and I don’t think the military is good enough at COIN anyway. Then you have the whole desire issue – do they really want to take on the ‘good Taliban’ (Haqqani/Bahadar/Nazir/etc.)?

  • Caroe says:

    Many thanks for the response, Bill. Keep up the good work!

  • Chris Hoagland says:

    Is the govt. willing and able to follow through ? Maintain an armed presence and also offer the basics of civilization. Clean water, medical care , education and a working economy . Got to win their hearts and minds the old saying goes. Just like we have to do in the Ghan , the Pakistan govt. needs to win the peace as well as the war.
    Take away the Ak and Koran offer them a dictionary and a job.

  • sterndal says:

    just wanted to commend the authors for the great articles. it encourages awareness among people. and this long war should end soon!

  • Neo says:

    Looks like a combination of payback and an effort to take some pressure off of Khyber. If they really want to take some pressure off Khyber than something more methodical and sustained is called for even if they don’t hold or even venture too far into unfriendly territory.
    I think I would characterize what is happening this way. The Pakistani army isn’t doing what it takes to win, they are merely doing what is necessary to avoid loosing. Over the last four years it seemed that the Pakistani army was getting nudged backwards by successively larger steps. That seems to have stopped for now. I’ll take that as good news even if it may only be temporary. If you asked me six months ago if Khyber would be still open, I wouldn’t have given it much better than the 50 percent chance. It doesn’t look like it will be closed this fall either. If they intend to poke and prod the Taliban for now, they had better do plenty of it, otherwise the Taliban is likely to regain their advantage.

  • mbik14 says:

    his under controlled Valley of Teerah is used by Hakeem Ullah men to cross from Aurak Zai agency and Kurram and he has good relations with them.
    On other hand kidnapping increased in Peshawar and Bara Area and the people caught turned out to be Mangal Bagh people.
    Mangal Bagh was expecting serious troubles with government. About two weeks ago he called a press conference in Valley of Teerah. In his press conference he announced that new name of His movement will be TEHRIK LASHKER e ISLAM. He also threatened Government that if he or his out fit is targeted Peshawar will not remain safe any more. He also hinted that he will coordinate with TTP in operations.

  • Raj says:

    Hey Bill, they are still relying on air strikes and artillery for this mission I doubt that’s going to anything to hurt the Taliban or LI, they going to do the usual just bomb the place and then make up exaggerated causalities just to make us believe they are fighting terrorism for the money and in the end Taliban will just come back as usual. In reality, some of elements of the military and of course the ISI are actually backing the Taliban so that they can attack Afghanistan because of Indian presence there and I also they are sheltering Al-Qaeda leaders. And i think theres also another reason which I will try my best to explain, the way I see it If USA continues to stay in Afghanistan, Pakistan who wont let us fight terrorists on their soil, can use this to get more money and weapon from us under the guise of “fighting terrorism” mainly to buy more conventional weapons to use against India and spend less on developing their country.And if you think about the Taliban in Afghanistan, they creating more complex and coordinated attacks I mean doesnt that might give a clue that they might someone behind this?

  • David M says:

    The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 09/02/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

  • Bangash says:

    These Operations are to protect Peshawar, they have no impact on Afghanistan.


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