Hakeemullah Mehsud, left. AFP photo.
The Pakistani military pounded Taliban strongholds in the tribal agency of Arakzai, a region where Taliban leaders from South Waziristan have regrouped. Pakistani Air Force fighter-bombers, Army attack helicopters, and artillery batteries struck enemy hideouts and supply depots in the Taliban-controlled tribal agency on Saturday and Sunday, killing 30 Taliban fighters.
On Saturday, Pakistani Air Force fighter-bombers hit Taliban ammunition and supply depots that were established in the homes of Sikhs who had been forced to leave the tribal agency. This bombardment reportedly killed 12 Taliban fighters. In December 2008, the Taliban imposed sharia, or Islamic law, in Arakzai and forced the Sikhs to pay jizya, a tax enforced on non-Muslims. Many Sikhs fled their homes, which were subsequently taken over by the Taliban.
On Sunday, fighter bombers, attack helicopters, and artillery batteries hit Taliban bunkers, supply depots, and safe houses in Ghiljo, Dabori, and Mamozai in Arakzai. These attacks reportedly killed 18 Taliban fighters. A “large seminary” in Dabori was also “razed” in the operation, Dawn reported.
Taliban leaders have relocated to Arakzai in order to escape the Army offensive against the group’s main base in South Waziristan, US military and intelligence officials told The Long War Journal.
“The [Pakistani] Army telegraphed this offensive and gave the Taliban enough time to relocate its command and control from South Waziristan to alternate hubs in the tribal areas,” a military intelligence official said.
Taliban leaders and fighters have also relocated to regions in North and South Waziristan as well as to Jamrud in the Khyber tribal agency. The Army has a peace agreement with the Taliban leaders in North and South Waziristan. One of the conditions of the agreement requires Taliban leaders Hafiz Gul Bahadar and Mullah Nazir not to provide shelter to fleeing members of the Mehsud branch of the Taliban. But Nazir and Bahadar have violated the agreement and allowed the Mehsuds safe haven in their tribal areas.
The Taliban have left a significant rearguard of fighters behind in South Waziristan to slow the Army advance and “buy time for its forces to reestablish command and control in the alternate locations,” the military official said.
“The Taliban are using these alternate hubs to launch its terror offensive against Pakistan’s major cities, particularly Peshawar, the provincial capital,” the official continued. The Taliban have pounded Peshawar with suicide attacks against police, the military, and civilians. One such attack leveled the headquarters of the Inter-Services Intelligence agency.
Arakzai has become a main hub for the Taliban. Hakeemullah Mehsud, the leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, was the commander of Taliban forces in Arakzai prior to taking control of the terror alliance after the death of its former leader, Baitullah Mehsud, in August. Hakeemulah is known to have an operations center in Ghiljo in Arakzai.
Some of the most deadly Taliban groups operate from Arakzai, and many of the suicide and military attacks carried out in Pakistan have originated from this tribal agency [see list below]. The Taliban terror alliance in Arakzai has taken credit for some of the most lethal terror attacks inside Pakistan, including suicide attacks in Islamabad and terror-military assaults in Lahore and Peshawar. These groups often cooperate in attacks, and leaders and members may be affiliated with several groups.
Major Taliban groups based in Arakzai
Fedayeen-e-Islam: Led by Hakeemullah Mehsud, the Fedayeen-e-Islam has taken credit for multiple terror assaults and suicide attacks throughout Pakistan. The group is made up members of the Pakistani Taliban, the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, Jaish-e-Mohammed, and other Islamist terrorists from Pakistan. It is based in Arakzai and South Waziristan. Senior leaders of the Fedayeen-e-Islam include Qari Hussain Mehsud, a former senior deputy to Baitullah who trains child suicide bombers; Qari Mohammed Zafar, the operational commander of the September 2008 attack on the Islamabad Marriott; Asmatullah Moaviya, another senior aide to Baitullah who was reportedly arrested in Mianwali in Punjab province; and Rana Afzal.
Lashkar-i-Jhangvi: An anti-Shia terror group that has integrated with al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan’s tribal areas. The Lashkar-i-Jhangvi has an extensive network in Pakistan and serves as the muscle for terror attacks.
Commander Tariq Group: This group is considered the most powerful outfit in Arakzai. Led by Commander Tariq Afridi and based in Darra Adam Khel, the group conducts attacks on Pakistani security forces in Arakzai, Kohat, Peshawar, and Hangu. The Commander Tariq Group took credit for murdering Polish geologist Piotr Stanczak earlier this year.
Omar Group: Another major Taliban group based in Darra Adam Khel. It has conducted attacks in the regions around Peshawar.
Ghazi Force: This group is named after Ghazi Abdul Rasheed, the brother of former Red Mosque leader Maulana Abdullah Aziz. Ghazi was killed when Pakistani troops assaulted the Red Mosque in July 2007. The Ghazi force runs a terror training camp in Guljo in Hangu and has conducted suicide attacks in Islamabad. The group is led by Maulana Niaz Raheem, a former student of the Red Mosque.
Abdullah Azzam Brigade: This shadowy group appears to be made up of Taliban members from the Commander Tariq Group who merged with some Arakzai-based elements of Ayman al Zawahiri’s Egyptian Islamic Jihad. A spokesman named Amir Muawiya, who is also a leader in the Commander Tariq Group, said the Abdullah Azzam Brigade was behind a terror assault in Peshawar.
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