Suicide bomber kills 50 in attack on tribal leaders in northwestern Pakistan

Taliban suicide bombers killed 50 people and wounded more than 100 in an attack today on a government official’s office in northwestern Pakistan.

A pair of suicide bombers dressed as tribal policemen detonated at the compound of the senior government representative in Ghalalnai, the administrative seat of the tribal agency of Mohmand in Pakistan’s northwest. The first bomber detonated his vest at the gate of the compound, and the second detonated his vest inside the building shortly afterward.

The Taliban bombers targeted a meeting of local administration officials and tribal leaders who have organized in an attempt to raise militias and oppose Taliban rule. Policemen, government officials, tribal leaders, and two journalists were among those killed.

Omar Khalid, the leader of the Taliban in Mohmand, took credit for the attack and warned anyone working with the government would meet the same fate.

“We will continue to attack all pro-government officials and their supporters who try to join any peace committees or Lashkars,” Khalid said, according to CNN.

“There was a meeting underway between the local administration chief and tribal elders, members of the peace committee (anti-Taliban militia) when the blast took place,” a local official in Mohmand said.

On July 9, the Taliban carried out a nearly identical attack in Mohmand, when a suicide bomber detonated his vest outside the office of the deputy political agent of the tribal agency, who was also meeting anti-Taliban tribal leaders. More than 100 people were killed in the attack.

Over the past several years, the Taliban have savagely attacked tribal leaders who oppose their rule in the tribal areas and the greater northwest. 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].

Mohmand Taliban under command of able leader

Omar Khalid, the Taliban commander of Mohmand agency.

The Mohmand Taliban are commanded by Omar Khalid, who is a deputy of Hakeemullah Mehsud’s Taliban movement. Khalid is considered one of the Taliban’s most effective and powerful leaders in the tribal areas. He also maintains close ties to al Qaeda and is believed to have given sanctuary to Ayman al Zawahiri in the past.

Khalid gained prominence in Mohmand during the summer of 2007 after taking over a famous shrine and renaming it the Red Mosque, after the radical mosque in Islamabad whose followers had attempted to impose sharia in the capital.

The Mohmand Taliban took control of the tribal agency after the Pakistani government negotiated a peace agreement with the extremists at the end of May 2008. The deal required the Taliban to renounce attacks on the Pakistani government and security forces. The Taliban said they would maintain a ban on the activities of nongovernment organizations in the region but agreed not to attack women in the workplace as long as they wore veils. Both sides exchanged prisoners.

The Taliban promptly established a parallel government in Mohmand. Sharia courts were formed, and orders were given for women to wear the veil in public. “Criminals” were rounded up and judged in sharia courts. Women were ordered to have a male escort at all times and were prevented from working on farms. The Taliban also kidnapped members of a polio vaccination team.

In July 2008, Khalid became the dominant Taliban commander in Mohmand after defeating the Shah Sahib group, a rival pro-Taliban terror group with ties to the Lashkar-e-Taiba. The military claimed it killed Khalid in January of 2009, but the Taliban denied the report and he has since surfaced.

The Pakistani government has placed a $123,000 bounty on Khalid’s head.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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16 Comments

  • Bessus says:

    Since at least the time of Alexander the Great, no nation or military power has been able to subjugate the hill tribes of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, a circumstance so famous it is constantly brought up in opposition to America’s involvement there. Yet apparently Taliban/al Qaeda is achieving this (by wholesale murder and vicious disregard for local tradition).

  • Doug says:

    I would be more impressed if the Taliban leaders themselves would walk into a room and blow themselves up. Sending the pawns to do the dirty work? When will these people wake up?

  • Mike. says:

    This great myth that the tribal area has been the death of empires since Alexandar needs some more careful analysis. The reality seems to be that Alexander had some trouble here, but conquered the area, nevertheless. (Wikipedia may not be the best authority, but a good place to start: //en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander%27s_Conflict_with_the_Kambojas). Tough resistance is interesting, but does not equate with driving out Alexander, or ending his empire. He didn’t stop until India.
    After Alexander, the Seleucid Empire (more Greeks) and then the Bactrian Greeks seem to have administered this area. So I don’t see this commonly used blanket statement being accurate.

  • Nic says:

    Isn’t there some stage in COIN or in the national response to terrorism where the general population revolts against the terrorists and rids the country of the terrorists?

  • Robert says:

    Fight fire with fire.
    Same tactics.
    Terrorist leaders need to realize that eye for eye
    is applicable to them. Relatives for relatives, sons
    and daughter etc belong in that eye for eye concept.
    Even the terrorist wish to have a legacy.
    And provide the Roman concept of rule. Democracy is not a temporal concept until all nations erase tribal
    vindicativeness, base on superstition, passive or aggressive family social concepts for political, economic and cultural dominance.

  • Chris says:

    65 killed here, 40 killed there…. when will the Pakistanis and Afghans REALIZE that these jihadis are not the brave, heroic freedom fighters that they and the jihadis themselves like to think of them as? When will they realize that these people represent not the absolute worst of their society, but something even more gruesome, and that if they continue to embrace these people they will never have a future? They blow up children in suicide bombings for their own political gain.. If anyone is hurting Afghans and Pakistanis and disrespecting their tribal society, and EVERYTHING they stand for, it is these guys.

  • omar says:

    The historical myth is indeed a myth. Like any mountainous and difficult to access area, it has been more or less self-governed at the micro-level, but since most conquerors had little to gain from the area itself (other than transit rights and the need to punish transgressors who brought violence into settled areas) the fact that it was not micromanaged by previous empires is neither here nor there. It is the “punish transgressors” part that is supposedly the main element in the current imbroglio, though the United States seems confused about war aims and may have committed itself to projects beyond its means.
    About “When will Pakistan realize that these people are a threat to the lives of the tribals”..they realize it well enough> But most Pakistanis are not tribals. The ruling elite is concerned with its own perks and privileges, not the safety of some tribal. The ruling elite may still see Islamists as the best of both worlds: a constant source of income from the rest of the world (paying them to keep the barbarians at bay) and a means of projecting nuisance value into India and Afghanistan. That deal has frayed, but not broken…

  • Charu says:

    @Mike, thank you for refuting the myth. Not only did the Greeks conquer the region, they set up kingdoms throughout the land and ruled for centuries. In time the Turks, Persians, Mongols, and the Sikhs also conquered and subjugated the Afghan tribes. The Brits, ever the shopkeepers, didn’t find Afghanistan worth their while; and who could blame them when the riches of India was theirs to loot. They preferred to play the Afghan tribes off each other to keep the Russians out. The Soviets lost only because we supported the Muj through our proxy, Pakistan, in retaliation for earlier Soviet support for the VC. If we lose in Afghanistan, it will be because of Chinese and Saudi Arabian support to the Taliban through their proxy, Pakistan, and our inability to interdict the supply chain or deal with Pakistani duplicity.

  • bard207 says:

    65 killed here, 40 killed there…. when will the Pakistanis and Afghans REALIZE that these
    jihadis are not the brave, heroic freedom fighters that they and the jihadis themselves like
    to think of them as? When will they realize that these people represent not the absolute
    worst of their society, but something even more gruesome, and that if they continue to embrace
    these people they will never have a future? They blow up children in suicide bombings for
    their own political gain.. If anyone is hurting Afghans and Pakistanis and disrespecting their
    tribal society, and EVERYTHING they stand for, it is these guys.
    I think that many Afghanistanis realize that the jihadis are not their friends, but have doubts on the staying power of the U.S. commitment and hedge their bets.
    The Pashtuns living in FATA, NWFP and similar realize that the jihadis are not their friends. But they do not have any influence over the power
    structure of Pakista which is dominated by the Pakistani Army that is heavily weighted
    to Punjabis in senior command positions.
    Some of the civilian Punjabis are brainwashed and think that India is the invisible hand
    that is funding and controlling the jihadis that are doing damage in Pakistan. They (civilian Punjabis) probably also think that it is a good thing that the
    jihadis are creating trouble for the U.S. – ISAF in Afghanistan.
    The Pakistani Army is so fixated on India that they are detached from the reality of the dire situation
    that Pakistan is in.
    The Strategic Depth concept is nonsense in regards to being a possible haven – base for the Pakistani Army to regroup and rearm in case they are pushed out of Pakistan by Indian forces in a future war.
    The civilians in Afghanistan, FATA and NWFP aren’t strong enough to resist the jihadis.
    As long as not too many Punjabis get killed by the jihadis, the Pakistani Army will continue on the current mindset of being focused on India.
    A threat assessment would be to compare the Pakistani deaths caused by the jihadis in recent years (1999 – to the present day) versus the Pakistani deaths caused by India in recent years (1999 – to the present day).
    Even counting the associates of Mr Kasab that were killed in Mumbai (India), the jihadis have killed more Pakistanis than India has from 1999 to the present.
    The reasoning that the Pakistani Army has used to decide that India is a bigger threat than the jihadis is something that I can’t understand.
    A nice read here:
    The Anarchic Republic of Pakistan

  • Ward says:

    Great points- One would think the PYSOP effort would be more effective in telling the locals that Suicide Bombing is not the Pashtu way. It must be superior to AQ’s recruitment campaigns. – In other matters- How soon till a new AIR campaign and level some places.
    The only thing this enemy reacts to is body count.
    Peace through superior fire power.

  • Bessus says:

    I was unclear. Referring only to the tribes of the rugged hills bordering Afghanistan and Pakistan, I wonder if the T/aQ’ s political decapitation via ruthless, relentless assassination of tribal elders and other community leaders (1) is a deliberate campaign to overthrow, eradicate, and supplant the ancient local culture, and (2) if so, will it work? Will the T/aQ succeed where previous interlopers have not? (If, indeed, the T/aQ is regarded by the locals as, fundamentally, foreigners …?)

  • Doug says:

    Very interesting posts…it makes me wonder if at some point in the future the Pakistani elite end up like the aristocrats in the French Revolution. That had pretty grim outcomes for lots of folks and it seems they would learn from history.

  • I would be more impressed if the Taliban leaders themselves would walk into a room and blow themselves up. Sending the pawns to do the dirty work? When will these people wake up?
    I think they should end this misunderstandings.

  • Villiger says:

    Bard, thank you for the link to that article by Ahmed Rashid.
    There is nothing in there that you and i don’t know already but it is very well summarised.
    Now we can carry on with our daily lives with this menace of a nation in the midst of our global village. And wait for the terror-machine to produce its next big hit.
    Nothing short of a complete liquidation of the voluminous Pak Army will get us beyond. It defeats me that the US still thinks it can somehow cajole this monster to produce something it is incapable of.

  • Ranger says:

    Killing 50 elder, officials, and police will only engender hatred among the kin of the slain. And thus AQ/Taliban undo themselves. Hopefully some random cousin organizes something ala Anbar.

  • bard207 says:

    Villiger,
    Now we can carry on with our daily lives with this menace of a nation in the midst of our global village. And wait for the terror-machine to produce its next big hit.
    Nothing short of a complete liquidation of the voluminous Pak Army will get us beyond. It defeats me that the US still thinks it can somehow cajole this monster to produce something it is incapable of.
    I think that it will be a while before the Pakistani Army collapses. They have some people in Pakistan convinced that the U.S. and India are the source of Pakistan’s troubles.
    Those that think that the Pakistani Army is the problem are intimidated and threatened by the ISI.
    Neither the U.S. or India wants to go to war seeking the unconditional surrender of the Pakistani army.
    ———————————————————–
    Ranger,
    Killing 50 elder, officials, and police will only engender hatred among the kin of the slain. And thus AQ/Taliban undo themselves. Hopefully some random cousin organizes something ala Anbar.
    With the ISI and the Army reluctant to tackle the AQ/Taliban menace, the tribals and police don’t stand a chance in changing the current situation.

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