The Taliban claimed to have killed 17 Pakistani soldiers in an attack in the northern district of Upper Dir yesterday. Seven of the soldiers are reported to have been beheaded.
Pakistani officials said that more than 100 Taliban fighters had crossed the border from Afghanistan and clashed with Pakistani troops, according to Dawn. Six soldiers were killed and 11 more were captured by the Taliban fighters. Intelligence intercepts indicate that seven of the soldiers were beheaded; the bodies have not been recovered, however.
Sirajuddin Ahmad, a spokesman for the Malakand Taliban, which operate under the command of Mullah Fazlullah, claimed credit for the attack and said 17 soldiers were killed.
“Our fight will continue until the establishment of sharia law in Pakistan …. We will fight whoever tries to stand in our way,” Ahmad told Reuters.
Two major Taliban groups operate in the region, one commanded by Qari Zai Rahman, and another by Mullah Fazlullah.
Qari Zai Rahman is the dual-hatted Taliban and al Qaeda leader who operates in Pakistan’s tribal agencies of Bajaur and Mohmand, as well as in Afghanistan’s provinces of Kunar and Nuristan. ISAF and Afghan forces have been hunting Rahman for more than a year.
Mullah Fazlullah commands the Taliban forces in the district of Swat, which borders Dir to the east. Fazlullah’s forces openly ruled Swat and neighboring districts from 2007 until April 2009, when the Pakistani military launched an operation to eject the Taliban. Fazlullah and most of his top leaders evaded the operation, however, and have since sheltered along the Afghan-Pakistani border, particularly in Upper and Lower Dir and in Kunar province in Afghanistan.
Kunar and neighboring Nuristan province in Afghanistan have become safe havens for the Taliban and a host of terror groups since the US withdrew from combat outposts starting in 2009.
The Pakistani Taliban routinely videotape executions of their captives. The most recent high-profile execution, which was recorded in a videotape that was later distributed, took place in June 2011, when the Taliban captured 16 Pakistani policemen in Dir, lined them up, and executed them via firing squad.
The policemen had been captured after the Taliban crossed the border from Kunar province in Afghanistan and attacked police outposts and villages in the Shaltalu area on June 1, 2011. The raid sparked a pitched battle that lasted for several days. Dozens of Pakistani policemen were taken hostage during the ensuing fighting. Although Pakistani officials claimed that 27 policemen and 45 Taliban fighters were killed during the raid, independent news reports put the number of policemen killed at more than 40. [See LWJ report, Video of brutal Taliban execution of Pakistani policemen emerges.]
In February 2011, Hakeemullah Mehsud, the emir of Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, released a videotape of the execution of a former Pakistani military intelligence official known as Colonel Imam. Although Imam, a senior officer in Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, was a favorite of the Afghan Taliban for his support of Mullah Omar, the Pakistani Taliban accused him spying against the terror group. [See LWJ report, Video: Pakistani Taliban execute Colonel Imam.]
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.