The Pakistani military has called an end to an operation in a Taliban-dominated tribal area in the northwest.
The Pakistani Army announced the cessation of operations in Arakzai as General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), visited troops in Arakzai and Kurram today, and said Arakzai is now cleared of the Taliban.
“COAS’ visit to Arakzai Agency marks the successful conclusion of operations in the Agency,” a press release at the Inter-Services Public Relations website stated today. “Return of IDPs [internally displaced persons] is excepted to start shortly. He appreciated the professional conduct of the operation which has cleared the Agency of terrorists.”
The military’s declaration of victory in Arakzai took place seven weeks after it claimed the Taliban was “fleeing” Arakzai and was on the verge of defeat.
Since the operation began on March 21, the Pakistani military has claimed that 1,116 Taliban fighters have been killed in Arakzai and that only 25 soldiers have been killed, according to Pakistani press reports compiled by The Long War Journal. The number of Taliban reported killed since May 23 has risen steeply. The military has claimed that 286 Taliban fighters were killed since May 23, when 70 fighters were said to have been killed in a series of airstrikes.
The military also claims to have destroyed more than 100 Taliban training camps, safe houses, and other facilities, according to Geo News.
US military and intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal are skeptical of the Pakistani military claims of success in Arakzai, and said the reports of Taliban casualties are greatly inflated. “You can bet that the Pakistani military hasn’t killed 45 Taliban fighters for every one of their soldiers killed,” one official said.
The Pakistani military has mixed civilian casualties with Taliban casualties, the official continued. “You can bet the vast majority of those killed in Arakzai are civilians and not Taliban,” the official said. The Pakistani military is known to rely on air and artillery strikes to pound the Taliban and often levels villages in indiscriminate attacks.
The Taliban’s top leaders in Arakzai still remain free, US officials also noted. “Not a single senior leader of the myriad of groups in Arakzai has been killed or captured,” a military intelligence official said.
The Pakistani military has targeted the Taliban in Arakzai, Khyber, and South Waziristan over the past several months, and claimed to have defeated the Taliban during operations in Swat, Bajaur, and Mohmand over the past year. But the Taliban still control large swaths of territory in these tribal agencies, while al Qaeda and allied groups maintain a safe haven in North Waziristan. The Pakistanis have rebuffed US pressure to target the Taliban and al Qaeda bases in North Waziristan.
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]. 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
The Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan: Akhunzada Aslam Farooqui is the leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan in the Arakzai tribal agency. 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.
Fedayeen-e-Islam: Formerly 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, who was killed in a US Predator airstrike in North Waziristan this year; 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 and is based in Darra Adam Khel. Commander Tariq Afridi is the leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan in Khyber, as well as in regions in Peshawar, Kohat, and Hangu. Afridi was named the terror group’s commander of Khyber in November 2009. Afridi is also the leader of the Commander Tariq Afridi Group. This Taliban outfit is considered the most powerful terror group in Arakzai, and is based in Darra Adam Khel. The Tariq Afridi Group also conducts attacks on Pakistani security forces in Arakzai, Kohat, and Hangu. His fighters were responsible for closing down the Kohat Tunnel twice in 2008. In early 2009, the Commander Tariq Afridi Group claimed the murder and beheading of Polish geologist Piotr Stanczak. In early 2010, operating under the guise of an outfit named the “Asian Tigers,” the group was responsible for the kidnapping and murder of former ISI officer and jihadist sympathizer Khalid Khawaja.
Omar Group: Based in Darra Adam Khel, this major Taliban group 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 that the Abdullah Azzam Brigade was behind a terror assault in Peshawar.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.