The Taliban burned down an entire village in the lawless tribal agency of Arakzai after villagers refused to back them against the military.
Sixty-three homes were torched by the Taliban in the town of Tori Mela in the Feroze Khel region of Arakzai after the residents were ordered to leave.
“Local people said the Tehrik-i-Taliban [Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan] had ‘punished’ tribesmen because of their refusal to stay on in the village and support them in their fight against security forces,” Dawn reported. Most of the residents had fled the region once fighting broke out between the Taliban and security forces in November.
The Feroze Khel region has been the scene of intense fighting between the Taliban and the government and tribal groups that back the Pakistani military. The Taliban have kidnapped seven tribal elders in Feroze Khel since mid-December 2009, and beheaded two “spies” there in November. The military has conducted multiple airstrikes against Taliban training camps, safe houses, and storage depots in the Feroze Khel region.
The military launched a limited offensive in mid-November against the Taliban groups operating in Arakzai after it could no longer ignore that Taliban fighters and leaders were regrouping there from the fighting in South Waziristan. The military has claimed it killed more than 80 Taliban fighters since Dec. 26, 2009.
The most intense clashes were reported in the Anjani region on Dec. 30, when 37 Taliban fighters, five tribal fighters, and four Levies security personnel were killed.
Among those reported killed was a Taliban commander known as Maulana Yar Mohammad. He was reportedly killed along with 38 of his fighters after they were gathering to attack a tribal militia.
Maulana Yar Mohammad was a commander under Akhunzada Aslam Farooqui, the new leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan in the Arakzai tribal agency as well as in neighboring Kurram. On Dec. 23, the military also claimed it killed a commander named Ehsanullah, who was identified as Farooqui’s brother.
Farooqui took control of the Taliban after Hakeemullah Mehsud was promoted to lead the entire Taliban movement in Pakistan’s tribal areas and in the northwest. Farooqui was described as the “patron-in-chief” of the Taliban in Arakzai and a “close friend of Mullah Mohammad Omar” back in 2001. At the opening of Operation Enduring Freedom, Farooqui promised to have 12,000 tribesmen to battle US forces in Afghanistan and offered support such as sanctuary and weapons and ammunition. He claimed to lead 7,000 Taliban fighters.
The Taliban are actively working to target the tribes who back the military and government in the tribal areas and in the northwest. Anti-Taliban tribal leaders are being slaughtered in Bajaur, while most recently a suicide bomber killed more than 100 people in a suicide attack on a volleyball game in a town in Lakki Marwat that had attempted to break free of Taliban’s grip.
The Taliban have responded aggressively to efforts by tribal leaders to oppose the spread of extremism in the tribal areas. Tribal opposition has been violently attacked and defeated in Peshawar, Dir, Arakzai, Khyber, and Swat. Suicide bombers have struck at tribal meetings held at mosques, schools, hotels, and homes [see LWJ report, “Anti-Taliban tribal militia leader assassinated in Pakistan’s northwest”, for more information on the difficulties of raising tribal lashkars in Pakistan’s northwest].
The Taliban perfected this strategy in North and South Waziristan. Tribal leaders who opposed the Taliban were brutally liquidated. The Taliban would execute the leaders and dump their bodies on the roadside with notes pinned to their chests branding them as “US spies” and traitors. The bodies were often mutilated and beheaded.
The Taliban have made very public examples of local leaders who have dared to resist. In December 2008, the Swat Taliban executed a local tribal leader named Pir Samiullah, then returned to the village to dig up his body and hang it in the town square. The villagers were warned not to remove his body or they would face the same fate [see LWJ report, “Video: Taliban execute Swat tribal leader”].
Major Taliban groups based in Arakzai:
The Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan: Akhunzada Aslam Farooqui is the new leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan in the Arakzai tribal agency as well as in neighboring Kurram. He took control of the Taliban after Hakeemullah Mehsud was promoted to lead the entire Taliban movement in Pakistan’s tribal areas and in the northwest. He is a close friend of Mullah Omar and has claimed in the past to lead more than 7,000 Taliban fighters.
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.
Clashes in Arakzai in late December 2009 and early January 2010:
Jan. 2, 2009: Security forces killed five Taliban fighters in Arakzai.
Jan. 1, 2009: The military killed five Taliban fighters in Arakzai and two more in neighboring Hangu.
Dec. 31, 2009: The Pakistani military killed four more Taliban fighters in Arakzai.
Dec. 30, 2009: Thirty-seven Taliban fighters, five tribal fighters and four security personnel were killed in clashes in Arakzai.
Dec. 28, 2009: Nine tribal fighters, including a tribal leader, and six Taliban fighters were killed in clashes in Arakzai.
Dec. 27, 2009: Security forces killed four Taliban fighters in Arakzai.
Dec. 23, 2009: Security forces killed 18 Taliban fighters in Arakzai
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