The Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan (Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP) highlighted its operations in North Waziristan, and featured its new commander for the Pakistani tribal agency recently. The TTP counters the Pakistani military’s claims that Operation Zarb-e-Azb has succeeded in defeating jihadists of all stripes in North Waziristan.
Akhtar Mohammad Khalil, the TTP’s emir for North Waziristan, appeared in a video released today that purports to show Taliban fighters operating openly in the contested tribal agency. The video was released on Umar Media, the official propaganda outlet of the TTP.
The first four minutes of the video show TTP fighters firing mortars, rockets, recoilless rifles, and machine guns at Pakistan troops in remote mountainous areas. Additionally, three captured Pakistani security personnel are put on display. While the date and location of the video cannot be independently confirmed, it appears to have been recorded in the spring or early summer.
The last two thirds of the video is devoted to an Eid speech given by Khalil, who is seated on the ground and flanked by two of his commanders. Additionally, two masked and heavily armed fighters are standing behind Khalil as he speaks.
Khalil was appointed to lead TTP forces in North Waziristan last Spring. On May 16, 2016, the group released an official statement on Umar Media noting that Khalil pledged allegiance to TTP emir Mullah Fazlullah, and said that the TTP accepted his oath and appointed him to serve as the commander of its forces in the restive tribal agency.
As emir for North Waziristan, Khalil is tasked with opposing Operation Zarb-e-Azb, the Pakistani military offensive in the tribal agency of North Waziristan which began in June 2014. The Pakistani military has said for the past year that Operation Zarb-e-Azb is in its “last phase” and that jihadist groups of all stripes have been defeated there. On Sept. 1 Lieutenant General Asim Bajwa, the military’s top spokesman, claimed that 3,500 “terrorists” were killed during the fighting, and all but declared the operation over.
“Given the rough terrain of North Waziristan, it was a challenging task to carry out the operation in area, yet the armed forces were successful in clearing out all terrorist hideouts, caves and tunnels,” Bajwa said, according to The Express Tribune.
Additionally, he claimed that the Shawal Valley, a haven for a wide range of terrorist groups, including the TTP, al Qaeda, and independent Pakistani Taliban organizations such as the Hafiz Gul Bahadar Group and the Haqqani Network, “has been turned into Switzerland.”
Bajwa and the Pakistani military have claimed that under Zarb-e-Azb, it has targeted all jihadist groups in North Waziristan, including the Haqqani Network and the Hafiz Gul Bahadar Group. However, the Pakistani military has blatantly ignored the Haqqanis and Bahadar’s group, which are considered “good Taliban” as they are supported by the military and intelligence services. During Zarb-e-Azb, the military has only targeted the TTP, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and al Qaeda, or “bad Taliban,” as these groups advocate overthrowing the Pakistani government.
The “good Taliban” are the life blood of the “bad Taliban.” They provide shelter, safe haven, logistics, manpower, finances, and other key enablers that allow the networks to survive a military offensive such as Zarb-e-Azb. Groups like the TTP melt away while a rearguard harasses Pakistani forces, and establishes or reinforces operations in other areas of Pakistan.