Pakistani soldiers in an undisclosed location in South Waziristan. APP photo.
The Pakistani Army has captured two more Taliban strongholds in South Waziristan and is close to taking another, while a Taliban spokesman claimed the group has conducted tactical withdrawals and is prepared to fight “a long war” in the tribal agency.
The military has killed 33 Taliban fighters and lost only one soldier during two days of fighting, according to the Inter Service Public Relations, or ISPR, the public affairs office of the Pakistani military.
Pakistani troops are now in full control of Kanigoram, a town that served as a stronghold for Uzbek and other central Asian fighters. “Hundred percent of the town has been cleared and secured,” the ISPR reported.
The Army has also secured the village of China, which is just outside the town of Makeen, one of the Taliban’s largest bases in South Waziristan. The military disabled 20 roadside bombs in China.
Pakistani soldiers have also begun to clear the town of Sararogha, where South Waziristan Taliban leader Waliur Rehman Mehsud is said to be directing operations. Two days ago, the military said Sararohga and Makeen were surrounded.
The military has claimed that more than 330 Taliban fighters and 35 soldiers have been killed since the operation began on Oct. 17. But no senior Taliban commanders have been killed or captured during the current offensive. And in stark contrast to the military’s reports, the Taliban claim that only 11 of their fighters have been killed so far in the operation.
The Taliban are refuting the military’s claims of success and said Taliban forces “are drawing government soldiers into a trap,” according to a report in the Associated Press.
“We are prepared for a long war,” Taliban spokesman Azam Tariq told the Associated Press. “The areas we are withdrawing from, and the ones the army is claiming to have won, are being vacated by us as part of a strategy. The strategy is to let the army get in a trap, and then fight a long war.”
The real story in South Waziristan is difficult to discern, as the Pakistani Army has closed off communications from the region and has denied journalists the ability to report from the battle zone. Journalists are taken on closely orchestrated battlefield tours and are given a glimpse of what the Army wants them to see.
The military is evidently taking and holding ground in South Waziristan, but the Taliban clearly are not putting up a serious fight against the Army. During past operations, the Taliban have put up stiff resistance to military incursions.
At the outset of the South Waziristan operation, US intelligence officials told The Long War Journal that all indications were that the main body of the Taliban force and its commanders have left the region while a rearguard force was left behind to harass the Army [see LWJ report, “Pakistan launches South Waziristan operation”].
“The Taliban appear to want to deny the military a decisive victory so they have pulled up some units and key leaders,” a US intelligence official said on Oct. 17. “A substantial rearguard unit will be left to bleed the Army.”
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.