Baluchistan province is a primary hub for Afghan Taliban

taliban-desert

The American airstrike in Baluchistan, Pakistan that targeted and killed Taliban emir Mullah Mansour was unprecedented as the US military and CIA have not launched an attack in the province since the drone program began in 2004. All but one of the 392 strikes recorded by The Long War Journal occurred in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (the other strike occurred on the border of the FATA). But Baluchistan province, which has been left alone until last weekend, has long been a major hub for the Afghan Taliban, replete with training camps, madrassa, mosques, and command and control centers.

The US focused its drone campaign in Pakistan’s FATA, primarily against al Qaeda, the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, and allied groups such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. However the Haqqani Network, a dangerous Afghan Taliban subgroup that is closely allied with al Qaeda, was also the target of numerous drone strikes; 93, or nearly 24 percent of the strikes, hit Haqqani Network assets.

While the US honed in on jihadist groups operating in the FATA, the Taliban was left to operate in Baluchistan province without any repercussions. Baluchistan borders the Afghan provinces of Paktika, Zabul, Kandahar, Helmand, and Nimroz, all major areas of Taliban operations and its traditional strongholds.

While Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan, is well known for its role as a Taliban haven — the Taliban’s Rahbari Shura, or central leadership council, is also called the Quetta Shura — a host of cities and towns such as Zhob, Killi Nalai, Qila Saifullah, Loralai, Chaman, Pishin, Kuchlak, Ahmad Wal, Dalbandin, Chagai, and Girdi Jangal host the Taliban and provide vital support for the group’s activities in Afghanistan.

Well-developed Taliban networks in these cities and towns play a vital role in ensuring the group can recruit, train, and arm new fighters; provide safe areas for existing Taliban units to regroup as well as give their fighters and commanders an opportunity to visit their families; and gives Taliban leaders a chance to regroup and organize new offensives. Taliban recruiters, fundraisers, financiers, training camp commanders, and ideologues operate unmolested, and often with the support of Pakistan’s military and Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate.

After the US invasion of Afghanistan following al Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks in New York, Washington DC, and Pennsylvania, and the rout of the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” the Taliban quickly regrouped and reestablished networks used by the Mujahideen during the Soviet occupation. Taliban training centers were immediately opened in Dalbadin, Chagai, Qila Saifullah, Kucklak, Loralai, and Quetta, Ahmed Rashid wrote in Descent into Chaos.

Towns such as Zhob and Killi Nalai became major centers for Taliban activity. In June 2007, after British special operations forces killed Mullah Dadullah Akhund, the Taliban’s military emir, in Helmand province, Afghanistan, the pro-Taliban Jamiat-i-Ulema Islam political party organized the ‘Martyred Mullah Dadullah Conference’ at the Shamsul Uloom Madrassa in Killi Nalai. More than 10,000 Taliban supporters attended the conference. The audience chanted “Long live Mullah Omar, Long Live Osama bin Laden and the Taliban movement” during the conference. Mullah Mansour Dadullah, Lang’s brother, addressed the gathering via teleconference.

Mullah Mansour Dadullah was captured by Pakistani security forces during a raid in Zhob in early 2008. While this was hailed as Pakistani cooperation with the Taliban, Mansour Dadullah was ejected from the Taliban by his emir, Mullah Omar, in late 2007 because he “carried out activities which were against the rules of Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.” So in effect, the Pakistani military and intelligence removed a Taliban commander who no longer was part of the group from the playing field.

Zhob has been a key hub of Taliban support. In 2003, Imam Maulana Hayee ran a madrassa that trained what Der Spiegel described as a “soldiers of faith,” while at the home of Mauli Allah Dad Kahar, a “friend” of the founder and first emir of the Taliban, Mullah Omar, “the recruits of Allah are dispatched to the various fronts of Islam.”

“Islamabad looks the other way,” Der Spiegel noted.

The border towns of Chaman and Girdi Jangal serve as key forward command and control centers for the Taliban. Two of the Taliban’s four regional military shuras are named after the towns (three of the four regional military commands are based in Baluchistan, the third being based in Quetta, while the fourth is in Peshawar).

Chaman and Girdi Jangal also serve as transit points into Afghanistan. Additionally, Girdi Jangal hosts an Afghan refugee camp that is fertile recruiting ground, and borders the Afghan town of Baramchah, which is also known to host Taliban and al Qaeda training centers. The Taliban has run its shadow government for Kandahar province from Chaman while the town has served as an important finacial hub. The US Treasury Department has designated a Taliban hawala, or money exchange, and its owner as well as two financiers who operate from Chaman as terrorists or terrorist entities.

The city of Kuchlak “functions as a haven and command center for the Taliban,” CBS News reported in 2013. In 2007, the Taliban openly flew their white banner in the city. Senior Taliban leaders have been spotted in Kuchlak. In January 2016, Maulvi Muhammad Alam, a Taliban commander in Afghanistan’s Zabul province, was gunned down by rivals, while Mullah Mansour, the Taliban emir who was killed in the Baluchistan town of Ahmad Wal, is said to have been appointed by Taliban leaders who met in Kuchlak.

In addition to the Afghan Taliban, terrorist groups such as the Movement for the Taliban in Baluchistan, al Qaeda, and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi also operate in the province. The Pakistani military targets these groups as they wage war against the state. The Movement for the Taliban in Baluchistan, al Qaeda, and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi are sheltered and supported by the Afghan Taliban, which is ignored by Pakistan’s intelligence service and the military.

It is unclear if the US military will continue to target the Taliban’s top leaders in Baluchistan, or if the the May 21 strike that killed Mullah Mansour was a rare target of opportunity as well as a pointed message to the Taliban. President Obama has said he hopes Mansour’s death will bring the Taliban to the negotiating table. If the US does decide to step up attacks against the Taliban in Baluchistan, there will be no shortage of targets.

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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15 Comments

  • Arjuna says:

    Thanks for the perspective. Obama is doing too little, too late, against the narcojunta but it’s better than nothing. We should have hit the shura to let them know we are serious. Now that was a target-rich environment! WSJ has the best 411 on the Mansour targeting (everyone got a piece). Bombs away in ol’PK!

  • Zafar Iqbal says:

    Well! its sadly true that Afghan Taliban are hiding in parts of Baluchistan. But I guess the international community is also wary of the fact that 2500 Km long border is unmanned / highly pours. Militants move freely across both sides of the border – unchecked, especially whenever there is some military operation – either by the ISAAF / Afghan forces or by the Pakistan army in respective territories.
    Not to forget – the militants of today – were the strategic assets of the not so long ago – of CIA and US administration and the Pakistani agencies against Russia.
    While Pakistan Army may discreetly continue to support its and US nurtured static assets (Taliban militants) I wonder having pumped billion of $ on account of security assistance to Afghan Forces – why Afghan’s don’t themselves check this to and fro movement of militants across border. I am sure there wouldn’t be any issue if this infiltration is stop…..But we know it wouldn’t happen….. All efforts by the Pakistan to fence / mine the border have been always strongly resisted by the Afghan government backed by US administration.
    I think the author is not only biased – in all his analysis. Mullah Mansoor moving freely across Pakistan is understandable (even if we buy author’s idea). But how come he moved freely out of Afghanistan…. And why there is no question from Iranian government as to what he was doing there during past 15 days….. and a particular question – why US did not target Mullah Mansoor inside Iran,,, why inside Pakistan territory only……
    US administration needs to answer all these questions….I am sorry Bill,, ur unilateral thinking based on biased ideas are generally counterproductive……..conforming high handedness / dual standard and wide spread hypocrisy in international diplomacy

    • Devendra K Sood says:

      Dear Zafar Iqbal, You can blame, obfuscate, deflect and site all possible excuses but the fact remains that if Pakistan was serious about eliminating terrorists from it’s territory, they would no exist at all or atleast in a very diminshed capacity. What you are saying is that if others can not do their job perfectly, Paksitan ahs a license to allow the terrorists to operate from it’s territories and should not be blamed for it. Give me break. Please go away and cry your tears some where else

      • Pete Speer says:

        The ISI loves the fluidity of the situation. It can step on the neck or step on the gas as it induces baby steps in Pakistan’s objective of establishng hegemony in the neighborhood.

      • Zafar Iqbal says:

        Dear Sood, I had no excuse rather had shared few bitter facts. There are about 3 million refugees (official UN figures – while unofficially there are much more) at Pakistani soil. Historically, the residents of border regions – both at Af-Pak & Iran-Pak regions – share same tribe, religion and are also connected through blood relations. Still, marriages across border are feature. Its unlike Pakistan – India situation – where we are divided by the religions. So to control 3 million people – who are inhabited at Pakistan soil since decades – and even many of them even borne here – is virtually impossible…..So my friend…. I guess you should be more concerned abut Indian Occupied Kashmir – where despite deploying one million soldiers – India has not been able to rest the freedom movement – to whom you may like to describe as an insurgency……Good luck my friend,,,, please stop worrying about Pakistan,,,,
        There shall not be a peace in the region – if India continues to persist its hegemonic designs – which is oozing out of your statement in the shape of a famous India rhetoric for which we are used to now….

        • Arjuna says:

          “please stop worrying about Pakistan” was the most foolish part of a thoroughly Pakistani comment. By Pakistani I mean biased, paranoid, off-topic. How can any sane human NOT worry about Pakistan? It’s the only place where several active Islamist insurgent groups seeks nuclear weapons from a regime known to be infiltrated by Islamists. Next to Pakistan, Iran is a miniscule threat to peace and security. Poor world if Pakistan ever squirts a nuke.

          • Haris says:

            Pak nuclear arsenal falling to terrorist is a rejected narrative. Stringent controls are in place to safe guard their integrity…

  • Dominic Chan says:

    Pakistan never enforced the region because the region is basically controlled by the Baloch Nationalists, feudal lords and Islamists. They are also fighting an insurgency war with the Pakistan government. Travelling the vast stretch of Balochistan is actually very dangerous and only with good alliances with the various factions, will someone be able to travel in peace in that province. The roads, if one is unfamiliar, can be packed with many IED devices.

    • Zafar Iqbal says:

      Dominic, I guess you are totally unaware of the area and its dynamics…. its a national highway connecting Pakistan with Iran, Turkey and further with Europe.
      Not so long ago, up till 2001, The European tourists – travelling to Pakistan’s Northern Areas or to India, riding Vehicle, motorcycles, bicycles and even by foot used to commute freely. The dynamics changed while US attacked Kirghistan….following which there were few isolated cases of attacks / abductions at tourists in these regions that too by not the locals. Dalbandin was the famous night stop over for the travelers. The are has a very low crime rate – almost negligible and people are also very friendly…Thousands of vehicles daily ply on the busy high way – where Taliban chief was attacked while he was moving all alone without any escort – in a private taxi 2006 model toyota corolla……its all a negative impression of the area – rich with Copper and Gold reserves – created by the media….

      • Arjuna says:

        The dynamics changed when poor European climbers were slaughtered in their tents by Islamists in Pakistan’s Northern Areas…. an insurgency ridden paradise like Kashmir. Islamist insurgents, not Indian.

  • Pete Speer says:

    Bill,

    Thank you for the excellent article on the mish-mash that is Baluchistan Province and the particular groups that populate it. The government of Pakistan and its ISI group are particular about the length of the various leashes with which it allows these various cats and dogs to do their business.

    West of Karachi, this province is the backwater of Pakistan. It is still desired by Iran, whose population in what they call Balochistan, and the various wars and revolutions through history are well documented at

    //en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Balochistan

    The province appears to be divided between the Pashtun (Taliban are Pashtun) to the north and Baloch to the southern areas which were formerly part of Iran. The ISI has been quite clever in supporting the former not only here, but of course in Afghanistan itself. The playground to the north enables Taliban reinforcements at will.

    According to the article above, the CIA has conducted air operations in th proince for many year. ISI may well have been aware and using U.S. assets to ‘discipline’ the Taliban when needed,

    Now the province becomes economically important. The port of Gwadar is being dredged and rebuilt by the PRC to provide a a transfer point on their ‘string of pearls’ — ports to be similarly used for commercial and naval purposes. The port and a north south railroad through the Province, extended to the into Afghanistan and (probably) at Qetta to the existing rail line serving the more developed areas in Pakistan — avoiding crowded Karachi The northern part of Afghanistan is mineral rich and the PRC has contractually locked up development of the mines and ownership of the output.

    Meanwhile, in Tehran (as they say say) the continuing problems of the Baloch tribes is a matter of concern.

    pete speer

  • Moose says:

    Great article, thank you.

  • Malik says:

    The problem is not in Baluchistan, Problem is those retired Generals who are living their Dream to become all Powerful yet again. These 70, 80 year old wants take over Pakistan yet again by hiding in Faces of Mullahs — they just cannot give up on them as they just cannot give up the desire of Power. They are creating an environment in Pakistan where discredited Mullahs who are answerable to people on killing thousands of Pakistanis by pursuing their ideology of violence but targeting a campaign against liberal, moderate Pakistanis – they are enemy of everyone. Living their dream Paki Generals are now turning to be enemy of everyone inside and outside Pakistan

  • Arjuna says:

    Anyone else think the Mullah Mansour tip-off might have been payback from the NDS? I’m sure they keep tabs on ugly people even when they’re not in AFG. They have a huge bone to pick w the TB for the April 19 attack. Looks like like the Paks might be pushing back:
    //tribune.com.pk/story/1110930/six-afghan-terrorists-nabbed-balochistan-says-home-minister/

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