More than 60 Taliban fighters have been killed during a series of airstrikes targeting the Taliban in the lawless tribal agency of Arakzai.
Pakistani fighter-bombers struck a series of targets in the Mamuzai region in Arakzai today. Sixty-one Taliban fighters were killed, Pakistani intelligence officials told The Associated Press. The military claimed that no civilians were killed in the attacks.
The targets included a madrassa, a mosque, and a seminary run by the Tablighi Jamaat. Pakistani officials said that Taliban leaders were meeting at the Tablighi seminary.
Tablighi Jamaat is “a socially conservative grassroots religious movement,” said Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, the director of the Center for Terrorism Research and a contributor to The Long War Journal.
“Tablighi Jamaat’s name has emerged in connection with several terrorist plots in the West, and a number of Tablighi recruits have gone on to participate in jihadi activity,” Gartenstein-Ross noted. “Thus, there is a debate among security professionals about the organization: whether it should be regarded as extremist in nature, or if these correlations are more innocuous.”
Leaders of the Tablighi Jamaat have maintained that the group only assists charitable efforts, but counterterrorism officials in the US and elsewhere have found that the group is used as a cover for al Qaeda members traveling around the world. The unclassified Guantanamo files produced by the Department of Defense include dozens of references to the Tablighi, which secures paperwork for fugitive terrorists and new recruits traveling to South Asia to train and fight.
Since March 21, more than 87 Taliban fighters have been reported killed in Pakistani air and artillery attacks. Five Taliban fighters were reported killed in artillery strikes in Ajini on March 21. And yesterday, the military claimed that 21 more “terrorists” were killed in fighting in the Ajini region.
Arakzai has become an important base for the Taliban over the past year. Large elements of the Taliban in the Mehsud regions of South Waziristan have relocated to the tribal agencies of Arakzai, Kurram, Khyber, and North Waziristan, after the Pakistani Army launched an operation in October 2009 [see LWJ report, “Pakistani military hits Taliban in Arakzai“].
On several occasions over the past year, the Pakistani military has claimed to have restored order in regions in Arakzai, but the Taliban have retaken control after security forces have withdrawn.
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 of 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, the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi has integrated with al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan’s tribal areas. The Lashkar-i-Jhangvi maintains 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: This is 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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