The Pakistani military has launched a new operation against the Taliban-linked Lashkar-e-Islam in the Khyber tribal agency.
Frontier Corps paramilitary troopers claimed to have killed 18 Lashkar-e-Islam fighters in artillery and helicopter gunship strikes.
The operation was conducted in the town of Gorgari in the Bara region, as well as in the Chora Valley in the Landi Kotal region in western Khyber. Bara is a stronghold of the Lashkar-e-Islam, an Islamic extremist group with ties to al Qaeda.
Taliban fighters under the command of Hakeemullah Mehsud have also regrouped in the Jamrud region in Khyber, as well as in Arakzai and in North and South Waziristan, as the military takes on the Mehsud branch of the Taliban in South Waziristan.
The military claimed it launched the latest operation in Khyber to relieve pressure on neighboring Peshawar, the capital of the Northwest Frontier Province. The Taliban have conducted a series of terror attacks on the capital over the past several years, and since the commencement of the South Waziristan operation on Oct. 5, the attacks have intensified.
During the first two weeks of September, the military launched an operation in Khyber that was similar to the one begun today, and claimed to have killed more than 240 Lashkar-e-Islam fighters. That operation failed to dislodge the extremist group.
Mangal Bagh. Click to view images of the senior leaders of the extremist groups operating in the Khyber agency.
Background on Pakistani operations in Khyber since 2008
The current offensive in Khyber is the latest in a series of clearing operations in the strategic tribal agency since June 2008.
The June 2008 operation purportedly targeted the Lashkar-e-Islam, the Ansar-ul-Islam, and a small group called the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. These three groups were banned by the government, and the military began rounding up members and destroying hideouts.
But Haji Namdar, the leader of the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice who allied with Mangal Bagh’s Lashkar-e-Islam, was seen riding along with the Frontier Corps. “He was taken along to ensure that encounters with militants were kept to a minimum,” the Asia Times reported. Government officials stated at the onset of the operation that the offensive would be limited in scope and was a “show of force.”
Ten days after the operation began, the government signed a peace agreement with the Lashkar-e-Islam. All prisoners taken captive during the operation were released.
The military also launched operations in Khyber in December 2008 and January 2009 in an attempt to clear the Taliban and allied extremists groups from the region, relieve pressure on the provincial capital of Peshawar, and keep the Khyber Pass open to traffic moving to and from Afghanistan. In July of this year, Pakistani aircraft conducted strikes against Taliban camps in Khyber’s Tirah Valley.
Despite these operations, the Taliban have succeeded in forcing the closure of the Khyber Pass seven times since September 2007. The Khyber Pass is NATO’s main conduit for supplies into Afghanistan; more than 70 percent of the supplies move through this strategic crossing point. So far, over 700 NATO supply and fuel trucks, as well as vehicles and equipment, have been destroyed in a series of attacks in Khyber and neighboring Peshawar.
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