Pakistani Taliban step up attacks in northwest

Northwestern Pakistan, including the tribal belts. Click to view.

The Pakistani Taliban have stepped up attacks in the northwestern province of Khyber-Paktunkhwa over the past several weeks, with multiple attacks including suicide bombings in the provincial capital and at a strategic tunnel.

In Peshawar today, a teen-aged suicide bomber killed five people, including a senior police official and two police, in an attack that targeted a police van. Seven people were reported to have been seriously wounded in the attack. Also today in Peshawar, another policeman was killed in an IED attack.

The suicide attack in Peshawar took place just two days after a pair of bomb blasts occurred at the Kohat Tunnel, the vital link between Peshawar and the southern half of the province. The first blast appears to have been intended to damage or destroy the tunnel, as a fuel tanker laden with explosives was detonated while the vehicle was inside the tunnel. Five people were wounded in the attack. In the second blast, which appears to have been a suicide attack, a truck packed with explosives was detonated at a military checkpoint; four civilians were killed.

The Taliban and the Pakistani military fought fierce battles for the tunnel several times in 2008. In one battle, in April 2008, Taliban fighters kidnapped more than 50 paramilitary troops from the Frontier Corps during the fighting at the Kohat Tunnel. Several of the soldiers and paramilitaries were beheaded and mutilated.

The attacks over the past three days have been preceded by several strikes against police, soldiers, and civilians throughout Pakistan’s northwest since mid-January.

Some of the more deadly Taliban attacks already this year include: the Jan 20 assault on an oil facility in Kohat that resulted in the deaths of five Frontier Corps personnel and two civilians, and the kidnapping of two engineers; the public execution of four civilians in Hangu; the killing of three soldiers in North Waziristan and a civilian in Peshawar; the Jan. 17 suicide attack at a bus station in Kohat that killed 17 Pakistanis; and the murder of four policemen in attacks in Bannu and Khyber on Jan. 14.

The Pakistani military has claimed that the Taliban have been defeated in the group’s sanctuaries in the tribal agencies of South Waziristan, Bajaur, and Mohmand, and in the settled district of Swat, after launching a series of operations in Bajaur and Mohmand in 2008, and Swat and South Waziristan in 2009.

Just last weekend, the military again claimed victory over the Taliban in Bajaur and Mohmand after a three-day-long operation. The military said that scores of Taliban fighters were killed during the operation. But the Taliban have persisted despite the declarations of victory from Pakistani commanders.

Meanwhile the Pakistani Taliban remain organized throughout much of the northwest, and have continued, with the help of allied terror groups such as the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and al Qaeda, to strike in Pakistan’s major cities. On Jan. 25, suicide bombers struck in Lahore and Karachi, killing 16 people. The suicide bomber that executed the Lahore attack was from North Waziristan.

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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