Asia Times reporter Syed Saleem Shahzad says that the US pullback in Nuristan has breathed new life into the Taliban in the Pakistani tribal agencies of Bajaur and Mohmand, and in the Swat Valley as well. The effective Taliban control of Nuristan due to the withdrawal of US forces has allowed Qari Ziaur Rahman to reorient forces across the border in Pakistan and open new fronts as the Pakistani Army is focused on South Waziristan.
Rahman is the Taliban commander for northeastern Afghanistan who has close ties to al Qaeda. Before Shahzad’s report is dismissed as mere Taliban and al Qaeda propaganda, note that he accurately reported on the rise of the Taliban back in 2005 and 2006 while others said the groups were dead and buried. Also note that fighting in Bajaur and Mohmand has intensified over the past several weeks. And finally, last weekend’s US Predator strike in Bajaur targeted Faqir Mohammed and al Qaeda and Taliban leaders while they were conducting a planning session on operations in the region.
Despite the tough situation US and Afghan forces faced in the remote valleys of Nuristan, the troops kept Taliban forces tied down and forced them to operate in the region. The abandonment of these bases to focus on population centers has consequences – Taliban resources are eased in the region, new safe havens are established, the Taliban get a windfall propaganda victory, any locals who even remotely helped US forces are preyed upon, and the message that US forces can abandon you too is spread among the Afghan people. From the Asia Times:
The province is now under the effective control of the network belonging to Qari Ziaur Rahman, a Taliban commander with strong ties to Bin Laden. This makes Nuristan the first Afghan province to be controlled by a network inspired by al-Qaeda.
In a telephone conversation on Wednesday, a militant linked to Rahman said that now that they had control of Nuristan, the militants are “marching towards Mohmand and Bajaur to help their fellow Taliban fighting against Pakistani troops”, referring to two tribal agencies across the border.
The Taliban’s control of Nuristan coincides with the big Pakistani military operation in the South Waziristan tribal area against the al-Qaeda-backed Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, which has been underway for the past two weeks. As the militant who spoke to Asia Times Online said, there is now the opportunity to open a new front, with Rahman’s forces on the Afghan side and those of Moulvi Faqir Mohammad on the Bajaur and Mohmand side.
This region is also home to displaced militants from Pakistan’s Swat Valley, who withdrew earlier this year after a military offensive in that area. They are believed to have regrouped and are preparing for new action in Swat once the winter snows block passes, making it difficult for the army’s supply lines.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.