The Taliban have stalled the Pakistani Army’s advance on one of its three major fronts in South Waziristan and retaken a town captured by the Army just yesterday.
Taliban fighters forced the Army from the town of Kotkai just one day after the military said it was secured. The Taliban claimed the Army took heavy casualties as it was ejected from Kotkai.
The retaking of Kotkai is the first visible victory for the group since the military launched its three-pronged offensive aimed at the Taliban heartlands in South Waziristan. More than 28,000 soldiers are pitted against more than 10,000 of the Taliban’s best fighters.
“We gave them a really tough time in Kotkai,” Azam Tariq, the new spokesman for the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, told McClatchy . Between 40 and 45 Pakistani soldiers and three Taliban fighters were killed in the counteroffensive, Tariq claimed.
Kotkai is the home town of Hakeemullah Mehsud, the leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, and Qari Hussain Mehsud, Hakeemullah’s senior lieutenant and trainer of suicide bombers.
Local Pakistani intelligence officials confirmed that the Army was beaten back from Kotkai but claimed only six soldiers and a major were killed during the heavy fighting.
The outcome of the battle cannot be confirmed as the military has prevented reporters from entering the war zone.
The Taliban’s ability to eject a conventional force from the town is an ominous sign, observed a senior US military intelligence official who closely monitors the situation in Pakistan’s northwest.
“They [the Taliban] beat back a pretty serious offensive,” the official told The Long War Journal. “As an irregular force, that is nothing to sneer at, even with home field advantage.”
The military has indicated that it seeks a quick victory in the offensive. Pakistani officials said they hoped to subdue the Taliban in South Waziristan in two months. One report indicates, however, that the military believes air power will enable the military to crush the Taliban in two weeks.
The battle at Kotkai will pour cold water on the notion that air power will be a substitute for infantry, US officials said.
“Hopefully Kotkai will wake up the air power advocates at GHQ [Army General Headquarters],” a US military officer told The Long War Journal. “Airpower didn’t work for Israel in Lebanon in 2006, and won’t solve our problems in Afghanistan. The reality is they will need boots on the ground, and will need to keep them there for a long time if they want to have a shot.”
Army fails to win over the Mehsuds
Meanwhile the government has failed to win over the Mehsud tribes in an effort to isolate the Taliban, according to McClatchy . Yesterday, Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani wrote a letter to the Mehsuds attempting to explain the operation and assure the leader that the tribe was not the target.
“The aim of the ongoing operation is not to target the respectable and patriot Mehsud tribes but its purpose is to liberate the Mehsud tribes from the clutches of cruel terrorists, who have already destroyed the peace of entire area,” Kiyani wrote in a letter that was later published in the Associated Press of Pakistan. “The main targets of the operation are Uzbek terrorists, foreigners as well as local terrorists.”
“I am hopeful that the Mehsud tribes will extend all possible support to Pakistan Army and will stand up against the brute forces, so that the national flag once again flutter over the homeland of Mehsuds with all its dignity,” Kiyani continued.
The Mehsuds answered the letter, saying they would not take up arms against the Taliban. “In the current hazardous situation, it is not possible for us to support you,” the tribal leaders told the governor of the Northwest Frontier Province, according to McClatchy .
The Taliban have killed hundreds of tribal leaders in South Waziristan since taking control in 2004. The current tribal leaders either outwardly support the Taliban or are too fearful to act against them.
While the Taliban scored their two victories in South Waziristan, their suicide bombers conducted a successful strike in the heart of Pakistan. Two bombers, one of them possibly a female, detonated their suicide vests at the Islamic International University of Islamabad. Five students were killed when the bomber attacked a women’s cafeteria and a men’s sharia, or Islamic law, program.
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