Pakistani soldiers move into position inside the Army General Headquarters perimeter after a Taliban assault team penetrated the perimeter and took hostages. Reuters photo.
Pakistani commandos ended the siege on the Army General Headquarters in Rawalpindi during an early morning assault on a building where four Taliban fighters held 28 soldiers and civilian hostages. The Taliban first stormed the building inside the Army headquarters after breaking through the main gate in a late morning attack.
The initial Taliban attack on the Army General Headquarters began at 11:30 Saturday after a van carrying Taliban fighters pulled up to the main gate and attacked the guards with AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades. Four Pakistani soldiers and two senior officers, a brigadier general and a lieutenant colonel, were killed.
Abbas initially claimed the soldiers at the gate repelled the attack and the Taliban fighters retreated to a building outside the gate. Abbas estimated 10 to 15 soldiers and civilians were taken hostage by three or four surviving fighters.
But subsequent reports indicated the Taliban fighters took refuge inside the perimeter of the Army headquarters, bringing operations to a grinding halt until the hostage situation was resolved.
Four Taliban fighters were killed by commandos from the Special Services Group, the elite Pakistani special operations forces, during an assault that began at 6:30 AM local Pakistani time Sunday. The Taliban fighters, some wearing explosive vests, killed three civilians during the commando attack. Three loud blasts were heard inside the building during the assault, but no suicide vest was detonated, according to Major General Athar Abbas, Pakistan’s top military spokesman.
The attack is a black mark on security at Pakistan’s highest military command. And, Pakistani newspaper The News had warned five days ago of this type of assault on the Army General Headquarters.
The daylong siege in Rawalpindi impacted the Army’s operations from the headquarters and sent a warning to the military, officials said.
“The Taliban shut down Pakistan’s Army headquarters for 18 hours with this attack,” a senior US military intelligence official who closely tracks Pakistan told The Long War Journal.
“They have delivered a message to Pakistan’s military: we can hit you in the heart too,” the official continued, referring to the Pakistani military’s threats to take the fight to the Taliban in the heart of South Waziristan.
Today’s attack is the third major strike in Pakistan this week. On Oct. 5, a suicide bomber killed five UN workers in an attack at the World Food Program office in Islamabad. On Oct. 9, a suicide bomber killed 49 civilians in an attack at a bazaar in Peshawar.
The attacks began just one day after Hakeemullah Mehsud, the new leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, promised to avenge his predecessor’s death and threatened to wage a new terror campaign if military operations against the Taliban were not halted.
A Taliban affiliate called the Amjad Farooqi Group took credit for the attack, and issued a host of demands, including an end to military operations against the Taliban and the withdrawal of the US military and intelligence services from Pakistan.
Amjad Farooqi was a Pakistani jihadi who was a senior deputy in the al Qaeda-allied Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami. Farooqi, who had close ties to al Qaeda operational commander Abu Farraj al Libi, was killed by Pakistani security forces in 2004 after carrying out two assassination attempts against then-president Pervez Musharraf.
The Amjad Farooqi Group is made up of a mish-mash of Pakistani jihadi groups from all regions of the country. Pashtun Taliban, Punjabis, Sindhis, and Kashmiris fill the ranks, according to a US intelligence official. While the Amjad Farooqi Group is largely made up of members from the Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, members from the Taliban, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the Lashkar-e-Taiba, and other groups can be called on to fill out the ranks.
Other groups, such as the Fedayeen-i-Islam, a South Waziristan-based group, operate in the same manner. These groups have conducted suicide attacks and military assaults in Pakistan’s major cities. Six major complex military assaults in Lahore, Peshawar, and Rawalpindi have taken place this year.
The Taliban have assaulted police stations and training centers in Lahore, ambushed the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore, and assaulted the Continental Hotel in Peshawar.
Terror assaults on military targets in Pakistan’s major cities in 2009:
October 10, 2009
Four soldiers were killed after a terrorist assault squad attempted to storm the Army General Headquarters in Rawalpindi.
June 11, 2009
Hakeemullah Mehsud, the cousin of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, and a group called the Abdullah Azzam Brigade both claimed responsibility for the deadly attack that killed 17 people and destroyed a large section of the hotel.
May 27, 2009
Twenty-three people, including police and officials from the Inter-Service Intelligence agency, were killed after an assault team opened fire on security personnel and stormed the ISI headquarters. During the attack, a truck laden with explosives was detonated in front of the police headquarters, leveling the building.
March 30, 2009
The Taliban killed 34 police and recruits during a terrorist assault and eight-hour siege on a police training facility in the eastern city of Lahore.
March 3, 2009
A terrorist strike team estimated at about 12 men ambushed the Sri Lankan cricket team as it traveled to a sports stadium in Lahore. Five policemen and two civilians were killed, and dozens were wounded, including some cricket officials.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.