Taliban, artillery, and lies in Mohmand Agency

Shortly after midnight on Nov. 26, US attack helicopters rocketed and strafed two lightly manned observation posts located on the Anargai Ghakhi mountain peak in the Mohmand tribal agency, known as the Salala security posts, roughly one mile inside Pakistani territory. The deadly air blitz killed at least 24 Pakistani soldiers and injured 13 others, according to Pakistani officials. The heated diplomatic row between Pakistan and NATO over the incident has escalated, with Pakistan ordering the US to vacate a key airbase in Baluchistan and closing NATO’s supply lines through Jamrud in Khyber and Chaman in Baluchistan.

Senior Western and Afghan officials told reporters on Sunday that a small group of US and Afghan forces on patrol in Kunar province were fired on first from positions inside Pakistani territory, prompting calls for close air support which wiped out the two Pakistani mountain posts. However, the Pakistani military remains adamant that the attack should have been avoided. Major General Athar Abbas, chief spokesman for the Pakistan military, told the Guardian that he did not believe ISAF or Afghan forces had received fire from the Pakistani side. “I cannot rule out the possibility that this was a deliberate attack by ISAF,” Abbas said. Afghan officials maintain that US and Afghan forces retaliated with airstrikes after coming under fire from the direction where the two military forts are located.

Pakistan’s unprecedented response to the attack in Mohmand is curious, especially given the countless reports over the past six months of Pakistani military forts shelling Afghan territory from positions in Mohmand, Dir, and Chitral. One such incident took place on June 18, prompting a similar US gunship raid against a Pakistani military post one mile inside Pakistani territory, also in Mohmand. The June attack came after a number of artillery shells fired from Pakistani territory struck homes in the Shunkrai area of the Sarkani (Sarkanay) district in eastern Kunar province. At the time, Kunar’s governor, Syed Fazlullah Wahidi, told Pajhwok Afghan News that the areas of Dangam, Shigal, and Sarkani were fired upon by Pakistani military positions for the better part of a week, with one strike killing four children in the Shigal district.

The Salala security posts are located in the Taliban-controlled Baizai area of Mohmand, a well-known hotbed of militant activity that has significantly impacted security on both sides of the border. Since March, numerous Taliban swarm attacks have ravaged Pakistani outposts in the region, prompting violent reactions from Pakistani forces who frequently shell suspected militant positions located in eastern Afghanistan’s Kunar and Nuristan provinces. Pakistani forces reportedly killed 65 Taliban fighters in the Baizai area in June alone. On Sept. 1, however, the Pakistani military claimed that a massive security operation had secured 80-85 percent of Mohmand and that 72 soldiers, including three officers, had been killed in the offensive against militants in the tribal agency.

Baizai is a known transit point and safe haven for Tehrik-e-Taliban-e-Pakistan (TTP) commanders Maulvi Faqir Mohammad and Mullah Fazlullah, according to an Afghan analyst familiar with the situation who spoke to The Long War Journal on condition of anonymity. Both Afghan officials and TTP representatives have confirmed that Mullah Fazlullah frequents the area, and he is also known to bed down in Afghanistan’s Nuristan province.

Taliban incursions on both sides of the border have successfully exploited a tense border situation to the breaking point. Afghan officials, including the Afghan Border Police commander in charge of the eastern zone, Brigadier General Aminullah Amarkhel, Kunar’s Provincial Chief of Police General Ewaz Mohammad, and Kunar’s Provincial Governor Syed Fazlullah Wahidi, have repeatedly accused the Pakistani military positioned in Mohmand, Dir, and Chitral of shelling Afghan territory this year.

Since May, Pakistan has shelled eastern Afghan border towns located in Khost; Nangarhar (Ghowshta district – Allakhel, Tareli, and Lakarai villages); Paktia (Dand va Patan district); and Kunar (Shigal, Sarkanay, Khas Kunar (Shankor village), Naray (Sawh village), and Dangam districts). The New York Times reported on July 3 that Pakistani rocket and artillery shells have killed 42 Afghans and wounded 48 in three provinces of eastern Afghanistan between May and August.

Previous calls from the Afghan Parliament for Karzai to sever ties with Islamabad in July over the cross-border shelling incidents failed to gain traction. Allegations of cross-border shelling continued unabated in September and October, prompting Afghanistan’s eastern provincial officials to lobby the Karzai administration to hold Pakistan accountable for the reckless endangerment of Afghan civilians living in the border districts. On Oct. 12, representatives from eight districts in Kunar appointed two delegations to facilitate direct talks with Afghan government and Pakistan army officials concerning the shelling.

In mid-October, Afghan officials in Kunar claimed that Pakistan had fired 1,591 rounds into the province over the past six months, killing 27 people and injuring another 42; many of these attacks originated from strategic positions in Mohmand. The following is a short recap of recent reports on Mohmand violence and alleged cross-border shelling incidents:

  • Sept. 1: Pakistani military officials claimed a security operation against militants secured 80-85 percent of the Mohmand Agency. The security offensive cost the lives of 72 Pakistani soldiers, including three officers. The area of Baizai remained outside the control of the Pakistani military.
  • Sept. 11: Heavy clashes between Taliban gunmen and Pakistani security forces killed three people and injured nine others as an anti-Taliban lashkar (tribal militia) and Pakistani forces attacked militant positions in Soran Darra, Baizai, and the Kodakhel areas of Mohmand Agency.
  • Sept. 24: Kunar’s governor claimed the Pakistani army fired more than 300 artillery shells into eastern Kunar and Nuristan provinces which caused human and property losses. About 250 shells of long-range artillery had been fired into Dangam district since Sept. 22 from Dir, according to Governor Wahidi. Two mosques and six houses were also damaged in the attacks.
  • Sept. 26: The Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan over recent artillery shelling into Afghanistan’s eastern provinces. The same day, Kunar’s governor claimed 10 artillery shells fired from Pakistan had struck the Dangam district.
  • Oct. 8: The Provincial Government in Kunar accused Pakistani military units of firing 33 artillery shells into the province, with 20 of them landing in Narai and 13 others in the Dangam district; the shelling injured six people, killed 50 head of livestock, and destroyed three houses. Afghan government officials blamed the attacks on Pakistani units operating in Dir and Chitral districts.
  • Oct. 15: Afghan officials claimed Pakistan fired at least 45 artillery shells into Kunar’s Dangam district which injured a child and damaged several civilian houses.
  • Oct. 16: Much to the ire of local residents, Afghan President Hamid Karzai told reporters that “most media reports about Pakistan’s missile strikes into Afghanistan were exaggerated.”
  • Oct. 17: Kunar’s Chief of Police told reporters that recent Pakistani shelling attacks killed 27 civilians and injured 42 others. Provincial council member Syed Sikandar Shah Bacha said Pakistani forces had recently shelled the border districts of Narai, Ghaziabad, Dangam, Asmar, Shegal, Marawara, Sarkano, and Khas Kunar.

Pakistan has denied the allegations of recklessly shelling the Afghan frontier, claiming that a few errant shells might have landed in Afghan territory, but has argued that Afghan militants have been rampaging garrison towns in northwestern Pakistan since May.

Although it is currently unknown what triggered the “tactical development” along the Afghan-Pakistan border on Nov. 26, given recent events in the area it is likely that the aerial destruction of the remote Pakistani outposts was prompted by either the movement of Taliban fighters between Kunar and Mohmand or by artillery salvos emanating from Mohmand, or both.

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  • namvet says:

    The plot thickens. It seems that the one holding the ladle decides what is dished out.

  • Charu says:

    Just a little while ago the Taliban killed some 16 Pakistani troops, even beheading some, but there wasn’t any manufactured outrage anywhere in the country then. It is possible that someone high up in the Haqqani network bought it this time, which may explain their reaction, or they are just faking it to shake some more money and concessions from the US. According to the Guardian NATO is bracing for retaliation at a time and place of the ISI’s choosing. Incredible!!

  • dac2181 says:

    The PakMil Frontier troops are very involved in supporting al-Qaeda cross-border actions. I have personal experience in a few of the previous PakMil border engagements in 2010 and 2011 across the border from Paktia, Paktika, and Khost provinces. Each time, the PakMil checkpoints were inactive until the insurgents were engaged by air weapons teams. Many times, the insurgents were operating within sight of PakMil Frontier outposts.
    There are procedures in place for direct contact between NATO (US) forces on/near the border and Frontier troop outposts in Pakistan. But when something like an insurgent attack is occuring and is originating near one of the PakMil outposts, the PakMil refuse to “answer the phone”.
    The Frontier troops are poorly trained and the PakMil have limted control of them. They are from the areas in which they serve and their tribal ties are much stronger than any allegiance to the government of Pakistan. Those tribal ties mean that many of the insurgents operating cross-border are likely kin to those manning the outposts.
    I can assure you that US AWT’s exercise extreme restraint with PakMil checkpoints. By the time they engage, they have likely endured multiple engagements from those points without returning fire. The alternative of not engaging is to abandon troops in contact on the ground……that is not an option.
    This is not a comment on the big picture of the GWOT, US/Pakistani relations, or anything so big. It is a comment on the crews of the Air Weapons Team that are forced to make life and death decisions in order to protect troops on the ground or in contact.

  • Adam Ray says:

    While the Pakistan army is often accused of being in bed with Mullah Omar’s taliban and the Haqqani network, nobody accuses it of aiding TTP, its biggest nemesis, which Pakistanis widely believed to be a US proxy, and which is responsible for 90% of terrorism in Pakistan, which has claimed over 30,000 casualties.
    Not a single american has been killed by TTP in years and TTP has sanctuaries in Kunar and Nuristan provinces which the US vacated as soon as PakMil started an offensive against TTP. No wonder then that people are talking about the attack on Mohmand being a deliberate attempt by the USA to aid its TTP proxies

  • destab says:

    None of this is likely to be published in Pakistan.
    Just like North Korea they focus and fabricate evil outside their country instead of the evil within.
    Why only two outposts why not all of them guilty of shelling surely a counter battery radar could stop this nonsense in one or two fire missions. Politics is again killing innocent civilians.

  • NEIL DUNWALD says:

    Cluster bombs and their bomblet and aerial mining with weekly treatment along the border should solve the problem for Afghanistan. Pakistan may not like it but who cares…

  • Vyom says:

    During 2011 up to July, 19 ceasefire violations have been reported along the LoC in Kashmir
    In 2010, 44 cases,
    In 2009, 28 cases,
    In 2008, 77 cases,
    here is the source,
    So Pakistan has been consistent in this matter. However, We Indians have luxury to reply them. That is not the case with ISAF. I think this time ISAF has used much more power then what was needed.

  • AMac says:

    Two possibilities emerge, not mutually exclusive.
    1. Pakistani Army and/or Frontier Corps are shelling suspected Taliban concentrations inside Afghanistan, in a reckless manner that leads to civilian casualties.
    2. Pakistani Frontier Corps and/or Army are shelling Afghani territory to support their Taliban allies, and/or to worsen relations between US/Afghanistan and Pakistani civilian leadership/Army brass.

  • Musson says:

    It seems like an opportunity for the Taliban to stir up the stituation.
    They can shoot at the Pakistanis from inside Afghanistan and then shoot at the Americans and Afghans from inside Pakistan.
    This would get both sides shooting at each other.

  • Knighthawk says:

    Do I have the general area (roughly) of the most incident right? 34°32’15.34″N 71° 2’34.51″E

  • asher says:

    As usual the tirade against Pakistan is through a bigoted mind set.Nato forces were inside Pakistan territory and targeted known Pakistani military base killing more then 25 Pakistani soldiers and then the war mongers take over to blame Pakistan instead.
    This area was cleared of militants as per the Pak military spokesman.All the more reason the attack had a ‘deliberate” purpose.
    Thats the question,what was the trigger to attack,was it to ‘punish Pakistan” for a recent development. One that comes close was the dismissal of controversial ambassador Mr Hussein Haqqani for charges related to treason. Was this person a mole for a foreign power?

  • Nic says:

    @Musson: I had the same idea, the Talib became just the catalyst for a cross border conflict. “Afghan officials maintain that US and Afghan forces retaliated with airstrikes after coming under fire from the direction where the two military forts are located. ” Here is my hypothesis: The Talib knew where the two Pak forts were located and monitored the approach of the Afghan and ISAF troops. The Talib placed themselves between the Paks and the ISAF force in such a way as to make the Talib fire appear to be coming from the Pak forts. ISAF would then be forced to attack the Pak positions. My hypothesis does not take into account the very detailed observations that a UAV could provide as to the precise origin of fire from the Pak side of the border. Would someone with the appropriate military background please comment? Thanks.

  • Devin Leonard says:

    I am sorry for the Pakistani deaths but they only have themselves to blame. They fired on Spec Ops gunships…what were we supposed to think that they weren’t Taliban. The Pakis brought this on themselves by firing on our helicopters, I guess we were supposed to just let ourselves get shot down. If Pakistan starts becoming totally uncooperative with us, I say we cut their aid to ZERO and see how long their country lasts then.

  • dr burke says:

    One mile away? Why not five miles and then the
    problem will be solved. One mile is just asking for trouble. Da.

  • mike merlo says:

    A most welcome development. Just another indicator of a Pakistani military at odds with itself.

  • Bill Thomas says:

    I fear we may well have simply been outsmarted again.
    At the end of the day, it seems a DISTINCT possibility that:
    1. The Pakistani Taleban engaged in heavy shelling of the ISAF forces that were in Afghanistan, while those same Pakistani Taleban were located near the Pakistani outposts.
    2. ISAF reacts strongly, assuming that they were being shelled by the Pakistani Army.
    3. The Pakistani Taleban picks up the pieces. Additional tension has been created between the US and Pakistan because of the this Pakistani Taleban operation.
    Divide and conquer.

  • Colleen Lowry says:

    Recent comments from Pakistani officials say that the 2 outposts were fired upon by the Americans for 2 hours. If that is true, it makes me wonder why Pakistan didn’t send their own helicopter gunships to the area within that 2 hour period in order to defend their outposts? They have military bases in close-by Peshawar with helicopters at their disposal. It makes me doubt whether the firefight really lasted for 2 hours. That said – it seems hard to believe that the U.S. with its GPS technology could not have known those outposts were manned by the Pakistanis. I find it hard to believe that this was a complete mistake on the part of the U.S. troops – but was likely an intentional targeting – for whatever reason, right or wrong. The U.S. troops may have believed (rightly or wrongly) that they were being targeted by the Pakistanis or that the Pakistanis were aiding the insurgents. Definately a lot of “unknowns” in this situation.

  • Ten Years After says:

    Uncle Sam has been way too tolerant of, and generous to, his duplicitous and devious ‘Islamic’ concubine who dances as easily with the devil (AQ/T), as with the Communist yuan and the US dollar.
    The closure of the supply-lines is an invitation for America to lift the Pakistani skirt in Baluchistan and cut off one duplicitous leg. If that doesn’t straighten out Madame Pak then grab her wanking right arm in the North-West and yank that off too.
    You need to speak to this bitch of a country in a language she understands and that her BFF, China, respects.
    Any other way is a waste of time. Thats ten years and counting.

  • gitsum says:

    War is hell. Pakistan can put an end all the problem Taliban tribes and terrorist cells ….if they wanted to. Delays = DEATH.

  • gitmo-joe says:

    A lot of this is standard procedure. Fire rockets into Israel from launchers setup next to UN observer posts then scream bloody murder if Israel responds. Fire on NATO troops within full view of Pakistani checkpoint troops who do nothing and scream bloody murder if NATO responds. Its called creating fertile ground for disasters to happen, then sit back and wait.
    But in this case there may be an even simpler explanation. While Athar Abbas yells to the world press “our checkpoints are on all of NATO’s maps”, “this is absolutely inexcusable”, even Al Jazeera says “The checkpoint that was attacked had been recently set up by the Pakistan army”. Obviously it was not on many, if any maps.
    Was this planned? You know what they say; “Do not ascribe to conspiracy that which can be explained by stupidity alone”.

  • gitmo-joe says:

    The Al Jazeera reference in my comment submitted 15 minutes ago is; Al Jazeera English, 11/27/11 Pakistan tells NATO to leave airbase, 1st sentence under bold sub-heading “Taliban fighters”.

  • Marlin says:

    Hmmm, the Pakis story begins to unravel. In other news the sun rose in the east today.

    A senior Pakistani defense official acknowledged that Pakistani troops fired first, sending a flare, followed by mortar and machine-gun fire, toward what he said was “suspicious activity” in the brush-covered area below their high-altitude outpost barely 500 yards from the border.

    It would be interesting to know what exactly caused the attack to continue for so long.

    Despite extensive coordination mechanisms set up to prevent such encounters, the U.S. military failed to respond to Pakistani alerts that its troops were being bombed, said the Pakistani defense official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the issue on the record.
    “We told them, hold your horses, these are ours,” the official said. While repeated urgent appeals went up the coalition chain of command, he said, the airstrike continued for an hour and a half against two Pakistani border positions and a contingent of troops.

    Washington Post: Afghans say commando unit was attacked before airstrike was called on Pakistan

  • Marlin says:

    Details are now becoming available from the American side.

    Nato forces may have been lured into attacking friendly Pakistani border posts in a calculated manoeuvre by the Taliban, according to preliminary US military reports on the deadliest friendly fire incident with Pakistan since the war began.
    According to the US military records described to the AP, the joint US and Afghan patrol requested backup after being hit by mortar and small arms fire by Taliban militants.
    Officials described the records on condition of anonymity to discuss classified matters.
    Before responding, the joint US-Afghan patrol first checked with the Pakistani army, which reported it had no troops in the area, the military account said.
    Some two hours later, still hunting the insurgents who had by now apparently fled in the direction of Pakistani border posts, the US commander spotted what he thought was a militant encampment, with heavy weapons mounted on tripods.
    Then the joint patrol called for the air strikes at around 2:21 a.m. Pakistani time, not realising the encampment was the Pakistani border post.

    Associated Press: US suspects Nato forces lured into deadly raid

  • Knighthawk says:

    “A senior Pakistani defense official acknowledged that Pakistani troops fired first, sending a flare, followed by mortar and machine-gun fire, toward what he said was “suspicious activity” in the brush-covered area below their high-altitude outpost barely 500 yards from the border.” -Wapo Funny how the story changes isn’t it. So again it was not unprovoked nor several miles into Pakistan, doubt that’ll get repeated in press over there.

  • Barry Larking says:

    dac2181. Many thanks. A recent B.B.C. television documentary (in two hour long parts) showed night vision imagery of a Taliban fighting force moving up on an I.S.A.F. position right underneath a Pakistani Army frontier post. Either everyone there was asleep or they were in on it.

  • Sheikh says:

    @musson : thats what i thought too, but the media in Pak is highlighting the part in their favor only,if they could get both sides of the picture it would be much better..

  • jean says:

    It is standard tactic to withdaw close PAKMIL positions. On another note, this happened spitting distance from Ganjgal, where we refused to fire indirect in support of our own troops. Of course we asking 20-25 year old American to FITFO these complex situations and then we second guess them.

  • wallbangr says:

    “This area was cleared of militants as per the Pak military spokesman.”
    Yeah, and if you believe Pak military spokesmen, I have a bridge to sell you. You’ve been reading too many conspiracy theories in the Pak media. You know, like how the Israelis pulled off 911? Please. The Pak military has been caught red heanded aiding and abetting the enemy. If my displeasure with the Pak government makes me bigoted in your opinion, so be it.
    @Adam Ray: TTP an American proxy, huh? You must be drinking the same cool aid as asher. “No wonder then that people are talking about the attack on Mohmand being a deliberate attempt by the USA to aid its TTP proxies.” I’ve got news for you, it isn’t any wonder that the Paks will find a conspiracy behind everything. That’s because nobody in Pakistan wants to own up to the fact that their government is a failed one, driven by corruption and an obsession with India. I suppose you can’t entirely blame them for having an inferiority complex, given their war record. But heaven forbid the Paks take any responsibility for their own fate. Playing the double game of the beggars bowl and the dagger and then crying in their soup that they are just the victims of outside influences. Poor, poor Pakistan

  • Ahmed says:

    Well nobody wants to even have a Pakistani view here that the NATO troops made a mistake in hitting Pakistani military posts. Now who is supposed to make that mistake? A country who has all the night-vision goggles and the technology to track what’s going on the ground even at night through its drones technology or a country who just has few men at a military outpost with none of the advanced equipment a world’s superpower’s military has.
    Ask yourself this question dears

  • Mr T says:

    Heres an idea, if you are in a Pakistani fort and the Taliban is anywhere near there firing weapons, you contact NATO forces to tell them you will take care of it and you kill the Talibs that are firing.
    What did they do? Sit on their hands and watch Talibs fire toward Afghanistan and do nothing? Did they try to contact NATO? According to some early reports, NATO contacted Pakistan and the were told there were no Pakistani troops in the area. If that is true, then the entire incident is on the Pakis for giving out bad information and their indignation is woefully misplaced as usual.
    If they didn’t say that, what did they do about weapons being fired near their position? Are they claiming there was no firing and that helos just flew over the border and blew them up? Yeah right, and they can guarantee OBL wasn’t in Pakistan. They are either liars or fools. Probably both.
    We know they support the Taliban. They started the movement and are kin to many of the murderous fighters doing the killing. Thier faux outrage is falling on deaf ears. Remember chicken little or the boy who cried wolf.

  • intersaucer says:

    The Pak Mil/Talib, ISI, Gov et al, are still fuming that the bin liner was taken out. All they want is something to shout about. Cut off their aid, from everywhere, after all, we are inadvertently paying them to kill our soldiers, then let them shout as loud and for as long as they like, nobody wants to hear them anyway.

  • Charu says:

    Let’s imagine that the Pakistanis were asleep when the Taliban began to fire mortars and machine guns at NATO troops. What’s their excuse for not immediately waking up and firing at the source of this disturbance that was so close to their position? Or did they just roll over and go back to sleep knowing full well that it was just their favorite proxies who were firing at ISAF troops?
    Colleen L raises some interesting points. Why was there no Pakistani military response during the 2 long hours? Why didn’t they scramble fighters or send their helicopter gunships to aid their post? Furthermore, it is quite conceivable that NATO might have had it with this Pakistani base’s repeated shelling and cover fire for the Taliban and decided to take it out at the first plausible excuse.

  • flloyd says:

    1591 errant shells.all this stinks to high heaven so the pakistanis now have been given a warning.next time maybe we go after bigger targets, farther into their lands.they have to be made to see the error of suporting terrorists on both sides of the border.

  • Girish says:

    Is this a game or what? If I don’t get my way, I take my bat, ball and wickets and leave is how 5 year olds play cricket in the streets in S. Asia. To get a better deal at The talks in Germany, the pak army is throwing a tantrum by distorting millions of dollars worth of supplies. The coordinate attack from the Pak establishment is telling. The support from the civilian govt it appears is a pay back for the “memo-incident”. My suspicion, the Pak army is going for broke, CALL THEIR BLUFF for once and we can save the Ives and limbs of the kids fighting for us in Afghanistan.

  • Zeissa says:

    Anyone who knows anything about modern artillery knows ‘errant shells’ are purposeful.
    Pakistan must be destroyed and given to India.

  • Zeissa says:

    Whether it was a Taliban trick or Pak aggression, it is Pakistan’s fault for either harbouring or attacking.

  • alim says:

    Can anyone just answer this question:
    Who has permitted US/NATO/ISAF to violate Pak air space and crossover any time into Pakistan? Is there any law / treaty supporting this?
    After this question is answered, than we should discuss that who fired first!

  • Raja says:

    As any other nation the Pakistanis have the right to give an ample response to threats to their forces. The people on streets in pakistan want to see American blood and the army chief has given green light to eliminate any incusion threat across pak border.


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