Hakeemullah and Waliur Rehman Mehsud, before the Pakistani Army launched the South Waziristan offensive.
The Taliban have stepped up attacks on the Pakistani Army in South Waziristan after the group’s leader recently vowed to continue fighting the Pakistani government.
Over the past week, the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan has killed eight Pakistani Army soldiers and captured one more, in two separate strikes. In addition, other small-scale attacks have been reported in the tribal agency.
Five Pakistani soldiers were killed in the first attack, on Oct. 15, when Taliban fighters launched attacks on the Talab checkpoint in the Sararogha area of South Waziristan. One soldier, who was first reported as missing, was captured by the Taliban.
Three more Pakistani soldiers were killed and two more were wounded in the second Taliban attack, which occurred in the Kalundar Keley area on Oct. 19 when the Taliban ambushed an Army patrol. Two other soldiers were wounded in a separate roadside bomb attack in the same area.
The recent attacks that killed the Pakistani soldiers have taken place just two weeks after Waliur Rehman Mehsud, the South Waziristan commander of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, vowed to continue the fight in the tribal agency.
In an interview with Reuters in late September, Waliur Rehman said he commands more than 2,500 Taliban fighters in South Waziristan, and estimated that the overall Taliban movement has 18,000 fighters throughout the tribal areas. He also accused the Pakistani Army of waging a war for the US and abandoning the fight against India in the disputed Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir.
“We are sure, God willing, we would defeat the Pakistani army one day,” Waliur Rehman said. “They have imposed an American war on us. Instead of conquering Kashmir, they are trying to conquer us.”
Waliur Rehman also expressed the Pakistani Taliban’s support for al Qaeda, and said his group was involved in the global jihad against the West.
Waliur Rehman granted the interview from North Waziristan, the neighboring Taliban-controlled tribal agency that is home to multiple Pakistani and Central Asian terror groups. The Movement of the Taliban’s leadership, including Hakeemullah Mehsud, the group’s top leader, and Qari Hussain Mehsud, the senior military commander, and many of its fighters fled South Waziristan after the Pakistani Army invaded the Mehsud tribal areas in South Waziristan.
The bulk of the Taliban’s forces were withdrawn and sheltered in North Waziristan, the Wazir areas of South Waziristan, and the tribal agencies of Khyber, Orakzai, and Kurram. A small Taliban force, backed primarily by fanatical fighters from the al Qaeda-linked Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, fought a rearguard action against the Pakistani Army in an effort to slow its advance and bleed the force.
The Pakistani military has claimed success in South Waziristan, but a recent US government report which was leaked to the Wall Street Journal issued a scathing critique of the operation. The report said the Pakistani military has been unable to capitalize on the initial limited success of the operation, and that its forces have since “stayed close to the roads and did not engage against those [Pakistani Taliban] militants who returned after fleeing into North Waziristan.” [See LWJ report, Taliban escape South Waziristan operation, from Nov. 26, 2009, for an assessment of the Pakistani Army’s efforts.]
Despite the operation in the Mehsud tribal areas in South Waziristan, the Taliban remain in control of much of the tribal agency. Also, the military has refused to go after the Taliban in Mullah Nazir’s tribal areas in South Waziristan. Instead, the military cut a peace deal with Nazir, who has since broken the agreement by sheltering Waliur Rehman’s forces as well as al Qaeda and other terror groups. Nazir has openly stated he supports Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar, yet the Pakistani establishment considers him one of the so-called “good Taliban” as he does not advocate attacks against the Pakistani state.
• Taliban escape South Waziristan operation, The Long War Journal
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.