SOUTH ASIA: PAKISTAN News Briefs
Operation Sherdil (Lion Heart) began in August 2008 and was initially aimed at preventing the imminent fall of Khar, headquarters of Bajaur Agency, to the Taliban. While the military operations are intended to reclaim the whole of Bajaur from the Taliban – al Qaeda axis, particular emphasis has been focused on Salarzai Revenue Division (primarily in the Dara, Mullah Syed and Banda areas), Rashakai, Tang Khatta, Mamoond, Bai Cheena, Bicheena, Delay, Nisarabad, Niag Banda, Charmang and Khazana, the areas of largest concentration of the militant Islamist forces.
During the ongoing military operations in Bajaur, some 2,744 ‘terrorists’ have already been killed, including 321 foreigners, and 1,400 injured, according to a military briefing during the joint session of Parliament in Islamabad on October 8 (since most of the ‘terrorist’ kills have been the result of aerial strikes, there is no authoritative separation of terrorist and ‘collateral’ fatalities). The military reportedly briefed the legislators about the worsening situation in FATA, NWFP and Balochistan and the US-led "war on terror" during the joint sitting of the two Houses of Parliament held in camera. This was only the third secret session of Parliament in Pakistan’s history.
After Waziristan, Bajaur is arguably the most significant stronghold of militants who have entrenched themselves in the FATA, transforming the Agency into a nerve centre of the Taliban – al Qaeda network. Sources indicate that foreign al Qaeda militants are converging on Bajaur to bolster the ranks of the jihadis during the all-out military action against them. In fact, foreign militants are reportedly leading the counter-attack, since the Army action cannot be opposed solely by the local jihadis. The foreign militants – Arabs, Chechens, Uzbeks and Afghans – are reportedly led by an Afghan commander identified as Qari Ziaur Rehman. The militants’ strength in Bajaur is estimated at about 2,000, including both foreigners and the Pakistani Taliban, according to Major General Tariq Khan, the Frontier Corps (FC) chief in the region. He said the Taliban’s fighting strength had not decreased appreciably, despite heavy casualties, due to reinforcements coming in from the northwest and Afghanistan. "I personally feel that trained squads have been moved in," Khan added.
Ever since militants of different nationalities began using Bajaur as a safe haven, they have transformed the region into a well secured fortress, constructing tunnel systems and trenches across the Agency. Network of tunnels have been discovered in the Taliban strongholds of Tankkhata, Rashakai and Loyesam, and sources disclosed to the Daily Times that "They [militants] would fire at the Forces from some house and then use the tunnel to escape the Army’s return fire." According to the report, "these foreigners were interested in renting houses by the roadside, and paid Rs. 20,000 to Rs. 25,000 in rent per month. The purpose of renting houses along the roadside was to attack the Forces if they launched action against the militants."
The militants’ resistance is stiffening, with better tactics and communication systems, reinforcements, and arms and ammunition from across the border. Reinforcements are coming from other Agencies in the FATA and from Afghanistan (primarily from the Kunar province). Western diplomatic sources acknowledge that the "level of violence in Kunar has dropped appreciably since the launch of the operation in Bajaur, indicating a planning and operational linkage that overlaps the Durand Line."
The extremists, Army chief Kayani said during his visit to Bajaur on September 28, 2008, were attacking not only security forces and Government installations but were also blowing up girls’ schools and health centres.
As has happened elsewhere in Pakistan, the conflict in Bajaur has led to a huge displacement of the civilian population. While there are no accurate figures of the number of refugees, reliable reportage indicates that an estimated 500,000 people have been displaced from the Agency since August 2008. There has also been a flight out of Bajaur by an estimated 70, 000 Afghans, following orders by the local administration to vacate the Agency. Many of the Afghans reportedly have crossed the border into Afghanistan, while others have shifted to the Dir Lower District. The Afghan refugees in Bajaur had been living there since the late 1970s, after fleeing the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Despite the widespread violence, displacement and an expansion of the conflict into other areas, including several cities in Pakistan, the Army remains optimistic about reclaiming the territory. The FC Inspector General, Major General Tariq Khan, stated, on September 26, that the situation in Bajaur would be stabilised within two months: "My timeframe for Bajaur is anything from between one-and-a-half to two months to bring about stability." He stated that the troops had killed more than 1,000 Taliban – al Qaeda militants and injured 2,000 others since the offensive began in early August, and that five top commanders were among those killed in the ongoing operations. Among the commanders killed were Egyptian Abu Saeed Al-Masri, Arab Abu Suleiman, Uzbek Mullah Mansoor, and an Afghan commander identified as Manaras. The fifth was a son of Maulana Faqir Mohammad, the top Taliban commander in the region. Some 63 soldiers had died and 212 were injured in the operation so far, Khan disclosed further.
The stakes for the military in Bajaur are immense. As Pakistani commentator Ismail Khan notes, it has "created a surrender-or-die situation for the militants and a now-or-never moment for the country’s security forces." Some in the Army believe that 65 percent of the Taliban problem would be eliminated if they were defeated in Bajaur. Describing Bajaur as a ‘centre of gravity’ for the Taliban, Major General Tariq Khan claimed, "If they lose here, they’ve lost almost everything." He explained, further: "Why we are calling this a test case? If we dismantle the training camps here, the headquarters, the communication centres, the roots which come in, stop the inter-agency movement and destroy the leadership. Out here we feel that about 65 per cent or so of militancy would have been controlled."
But this optimism is not generally shared, even within the Army. Military operations had been a mixed bag of success and setbacks and no timeframe could be given about the ongoing campaigns, sources in the military said in a media briefing on September 29. "It is a continual operation. It is not going to end in 2008 and it is not going to end in 2009. Don’t be optimistic, as far as the timeframe is concerned. It is a different ground and it will take some time."
That the Army has a difficult task is obvious. But the situation is made worse by a trust deficit at the local level which, in turn, has been aggravated by US incursions in FATA. The mounting civilian casualties (which are impossible to estimate at present) and a steadily growing refugee situation have added to the complexities. Further, Islamabad has predominantly relied on an aerial strategy to target militant locations in Bajaur. Noted journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad observes, "the Army, according to sources, was not deployed on the ground because it is not prepared to take casualties. Until the Army gains control of the ground, military operations in Bajaur will remain in limbo."
Government and security officials have disclosed to the media that "they are baffled by the resilience and stiff resistance offered by the battle-hardened fighters, by their tactics and the sophistication of their weapons and communications systems." One senior official noted that "They have good weaponry and a better communication system (than ours)… Even the sniper rifles they use are better than some of ours. Their tactics are mind-boggling and they have defences that would take us days to build. It does not look as though we are fighting a rag-tag militia; they are fighting like an organised force."
There is, moreover, significant apprehension in Islamabad that increasing ‘collateral damage’ in an augmenting conflict may lead to a severe public backlash across Pakistan, and consequently undermine the political support required for a successful campaign in Bajaur. Reports already indicate that the fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), which has a "strong political base in Bajaur and has had close ties with Gulbadin Hekmatyar’s Hizb-i-Islami (which operates in Kunar) has already launched a campaign against the operation."
On its side, the Taliban appears to be determined to defend Bajaur till the last jihadi. More importantly, however, they are clearly escalating the conflict in Pakistan's cities. The latest instance of this strategy was visible on October 9, when a bomb blast destroyed the headquarters of Pakistan's Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) in Islamabad, though there were no casualties (four policemen were reportedly wounded) since there were few Policemen at the location at that time. The bomb, which was disguised as a packet of sweets, was allegedly sent by Waliur Rehman, a Bajaur-based commander of the Jaish-e-Islami Pakistan, a militant group aligned with the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Waliur Rehman was reportedly wounded on September 25 when helicopter gunships targeted his hideout in Khar, headquarters of the Bajaur Agency. A note left at the ATS office said: "Human bombs would continue to target the security forces personnel if the Pakistani authorities do not stop fighting the US-led war against terror." Even the suicide bombing at Hotel Marriott in Islamabad on September 20, in which 60 people were killed, was a clear indication that the Taliban have brought the battle to Pakistan’s cities. An emboldened Taliban also abducted Abdul Khaliq Farahi, Afghanistan's Ambassador-designate to Islamabad, from the upscale Hyatabad area in Peshawar, capital of the NWFP, in broad daylight on September 22, after killing his driver. Till the time of writing, Farahi remains missing.
Islamabad, evidently, has limited choices, and the options are circumscribed further by the immense pressure that is currently being exerted by Washington. Even as Operation Sherdil continues, sources indicate that preparations are underway to begin an all-out campaign in North Waziristan, where some militant leaders are believed to have shifted. NATO reportedly favors the operation in North Waziristan because, "like Bajaur, it is a nest of Afghan resistance, mainly of (the) pro-Pakistan Jalaluddin Haqqani (faction)." Significantly, the neutralization of any ‘high-value target’ in the FATA is expected to have considerable impact on the campaign strategy of Republican candidate John McCain in the U.S.
An eventual failure in Bajaur or the abandonment of Operation Sherdil midway (as has been the case for military operations in South Waziristan, Darra Adamkhel and Swat on earlier occasions), will undermine the entire effort to restore some measure of order along the frontier – and indeed, across Pakistan. The campaign in Bajaur is crucial to successes in the other provinces and will impact on the strategy of the Taliban – al Qaeda combine both in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
[South Asian Intelligence Review]
Anti-Taliban offensive continues in Bajaur: At least 97 Taliban militants were killed in the past week in a continued air and land offensive between the SFs and the Taliban militants in the Bajaur Agency of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). On October 20, 15 Taliban militants were killed as security forces (SFs) used heavy artillery, fighter jets and helicopter gunships to target suspected Taliban hide-outs in the Chinar, Charmang, Kohi, Babra, Zorbandar, Hashim and Loyesam areas of the Agency. On October 21, at least 11 Taliban militants were killed and 10 others were injured after helicopter gunships and fighter jets pounded Taliban hideouts in the Chinar, Charmang, Kohi, Babara and Hashim areas of Nowagai tehsil (revenue division). SFs claimed to have destroyed important Taliban positions in the attacks. More than 12 Taliban militants were killed and 10 others injured during air raids targeting Taliban hideouts in the Nawagai and Mamond tehsils on October 22. Several Taliban dens in the Charmang, Chinar and Zorbandar areas of the Agency were also destroyed. On October 23, ground and air strikes killed at least 35 Taliban militants in the Loyesam and Charmang areas. Eight close aides of the Taliban commander Maulvi Omar were among the killed. Omar’s house had been destroyed in an earlier operation. On October 24, 12 Taliban militants were killed as SFs backed by tanks and helicopter gunships raided Taliban positions in the Charmang, Chinar, Kohi and Banda areas of Nawagai tehsil and Zobandar and Anzrai areas in the Khar tehsil. Jet aircrafts also bombed Taliban hideouts in the Shinkot area of the Agency. On October 26, Geo News reported the killing of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesman, Maulvi Umar an air strike on a cave in the Budano area of the Agency. The death has not been officially confirmed. On October 26, Taliban attacked a security post on the outskirts of Khar township. Troops retaliated, killing six Taliban. Another five Taliban militants were killed when troops attacked a militant base in Charmang area.
The Government claims to have succeeded in persuading the tribes to rise in revolt against the Taliban. It has been a customary practice for the helicopters to drop pamphlets asking tribesmen to support the Government against Taliban, following air raids on Taliban targets. On October 20, 300 elders from the Salarzai tribe vowed to resist Taliban in their areas during a grand jirga (council) held in Bajaur. The elders said they would fight Taliban for Pakistan’s sake and would not allow them to re-enter their land. They asked the Government to launch development and welfare projects in the area to win more tribesmen over. On October 21, a Salarzai grand jirga held at a government school in Pusht decided it would expel anyone harbouring Taliban militants from the Agency, burn their houses and fine them PKR Two million. Elders of the Banda and Ghundai tribes backed the decision. On October 23, a Salarzai tribal militia set ablaze houses of Taliban militants, including Commander Qari Gulrez. The tribe has also banned the entry of relatives of Taliban militants in the areas it controls and has said it would expel, fine, and burn houses of those who sheltered Taliban. On October 24, a grand jirga of Mamoond tribe at Badaan extended full co-operation to the SFs to restore the Government’s writ in the area.
On October 25, military officials said at a media briefing that Operation Sherdil in the Bajaur Agency has so far killed 1,500 Taliban militants, 95 civilians and 73 troops. Frontier Corps (FC) Inspector General Maj. Gen. Tariq Khan and ISPR Director General Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas told reporters that 950 Taliban militants have also been arrested during the operation that began in August, 2008. The arrested included 300 foreign terrorists mainly from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan. Gen Tariq Khan further said. "The worst is over… I think we’ve turned the corner." But he added that the operation "could go on for several months before the area is completely cleared of militants". Daily Times; Dawn, October 21-27, 2008.
Parliament adopts 14-point anti-terrorism resolution: On October 22, the Pakistan Parliament, following two days of negotiations, unanimously adopted a 14-point resolution declaring that the Pakistani nation was united against terrorism and sectarian violence and would tackle the problem by addressing its root causes. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani moved the resolution, which he said would serve as a policy guideline to the Government in framing a national security strategy. "Extremism, militancy and terrorism in all forms and manifestations pose a grave danger to the stability and integrity of the country," the resolution said. "Dictatorial regimes in the past pursued policies aimed at perpetuating their own power at the cost of national interest. We need an urgent review of our national security strategy and revisiting the methodology of combating terrorism in order to restore peace and stability to Pakistan and the region through an independent foreign policy", it added. The resolution laid emphasis on the process of dialogue as the "principal instrument of conflict management and resolution", but also said talks would only "be encouraged with all those elements willing to abide by the Constitution of Pakistan and rule of law". It asked for the expulsion of all foreign fighters from Pakistan’s soil. Daily Times, October 23, 2008.
15 Frontier Constabulary personnel and five Taliban militants killed in Swat: At least 15 Frontier Constabulary (FC) personnel and five Taliban militants were found dead in the Kabal tehsil (Revenue Division) of Swat in the NWFP on October 22. The FC personnel had gone missing after a fight with Taliban on the previous day after a roadside bomb targeted a paramilitary convoy in the Sarsenai area. "After the exchange of fire that lasted for several hours, more than 20 troops went missing but today we found 15 dead bodies at the site," Noor Rehman, a Police officer in Kabal said. Taliban spokesman, Muslim Khan, said that apart from the 15 FC personnel, five Taliban militants were also killed in the fighting. Swat police chief, Dilawar Bangash, said an injured Taliban commander, identified as Sardar Ali, had been arrested. Daily Times, October 23, 2008.
60 Taliban militants killed in air strikes in Matta: At least 60 Taliban militants were killed when fighter jets bombarded a Taliban training camp and suspected hideouts in Peochar of the Matta tehsil of Swat District in NWFP on October 17. Security officials maintained that the death toll is likely to increase once the dead bodies were retrieved from the caves and other targeted areas. Separately, on October 19, another 27 Taliban militants, including two commanders, were killed as fighter jets bombed a Taliban hideout in the Matta tehsil. Official sources said the commanders killed were closely associated with pro-Taliban cleric Fazlullah. Taliban spokesman, Muslim Khan, however, denied any of their cadres were killed as a result of the air strike, which killed 35 civilians and only injured Taliban militants. Daily Times; Dawn, October 18 & 20, 2008.
Pakistani Taliban’s annual budget more than PKR Four billion: The annual budget of the Pakistani Taliban is more than PKR Four billion (approximately USD 48 million), unidentified NWFP officials said on October 15. The officials said that a Khasadar force soldier, lowest in the Taliban hierarchy, is paid a monthly salary of PKR 3,000, while a Taliban mercenary gets PKR 6,000 a month. Local Taliban commanders receive as much as PKR 20,000 a month. Daily Times; Dawn, October 16, 2008.
85 persons killed in suicide attack in Orakzai Agency: At least 85 persons were killed and around 200 others wounded when a suicide bomber detonated an explosives-laden vehicle in an anti-Taliban jirga (council) of the Ali Khel tribe in the Khadezai area of Upper Orakzai Agency in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) on October 10. "We were busy in raising a lashkar (militia) to evict Taliban from the region when this attack took place," said Qeemat Khan Orakzai, a jirga member. Earlier local tribesmen had destroyed three Taliban hideouts, including the houses of two Taliban commanders in the Dabori area of the agency. Kamran Zeb, a top government official in Orakzai, disclosed, "The lashkar had taken a decision to destroy militants’ headquarters in the region. Shortly afterwards, this attack took place." The death toll, initially quoted to be 40, had risen to 85 by October 11. Reuters; Daily Times, October 11, 2008.
Anti-Taliban offensive continues in Bajaur: At least 116 Taliban terrorists and eight civilians were killed in the past week in a continued air and land offensive by the SFs against the Taliban in the Bajaur Agency of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). On October 13, helicopter gunships and artillery killed at least 24 Taliban militants and wounded 10 others in Chinar, Tangi, Kotki and Nawa in the Charmang tehsil (Revenue Division). The military offensive had begun in the afternoon of October 12 and continued into the early hours of October 13. On October 14, air raids targeting Taliban hideouts in the Rashkai, Tang Khatta, Tangi, Chinar, Charmang and Kotki areas killed at least 28 Taliban militants. A lone tribesman was also killed during the operations. Helicopter gunships had to carry our two consecutive raids in the Charmang, Chinar and Kotki areas to destroy the Taliban positions. Another two Taliban militants and a tribesman were killed in a separate incident. On October 15, troops fired artillery and mortars at Taliban hideouts in Loyesam, Rashakai, Chinar and Babra areas, killing 10 Taliban militants and wounding eight others. Six other Taliban militants were killed by helicopter gunship attacks in the same area. On October 16, SFs killed seven militants in daylong shelling in the Charmang, Barbra and Chenar areas of the Nawagai tehsil. On October 17, 12 Taliban militants were killed in operations in the Loyesam area. Operations in the Zor Bandar, Loyesam, Charmang, Kohi and Babara areas killed 13 Taliban militants on October 18. On October 19, seven Taliban militants were killed in bombings by SFs targeting Taliban hideouts in the Loyesam, Zorbandar, Sar Lara, and Enzara areas of Khar tehsil and Sawai, Tangai, Dabara and Zarnawoo areas of Mohamand tehsil. Separately, three Taliban militants were killed in other parts of the Agency when they tried to attack SF posts.
Confrontations between the Taliban and the lashkar (militia) belonging to various tribes, principally aided by the Government, have compounded the conflict dynamics in the Agency. On October 13, four Taliban militants and two locals were killed in an exchange of fire between a tribal lashkar and the Taliban in an unspecified location. In the Kotkai village near Charmang area, Taliban militants killed four tribesmen belonging to a lashkar. On October 14, a Charmang tribal lashkar attacked Taliban positions using heavy artillery and set ablaze a number of Taliban houses. A day after, however, this lashkar refused to cooperate with the SFs, citing lack of Government support. The Government is also pursuing a policy of punishing the tribes which have not yet formed their own lashkars to take on the Taliban. On October 14, the Bajaur political administration arrested 100 people of the Mamoond tribe on charges of not taking action against Taliban militants. On October 16, tribal lashkars set ablaze three houses of local commanders of militants in the Tauheedabad area, 10-kilometres from Khar township. In retaliation, a group of 20 Taliban militants destroyed the houses of two tribesmen in the Inayat Kellay area.
Meanwhile, on October 19, Sahibzada Haroonur Rashid, a Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) leader from Bajaur Agency claimed that 1,500 children, women and elderly people had been killed in the military operation against militants so far. Addressing a protest demonstration in Peshawar against the Bajaur operation, he said the Government was killing people in Swat, Darra, Bajaur and other tribal areas to appease the United States (US), as a result of which hundreds of thousands of Bajauris had become refugees in their own country. Unidentified officials in the Bajaur Agency, on the other hand, have said that the Taliban militants had killed more than 600 pro-Government tribal leaders until now.
A soon-to-be completed National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) of the US indicates that the insurgency based in FATA is intensifying. A US official who participated in drafting the top-secret report summarised the estimate's conclusions about the state of Pakistan: "no money, no energy, no government". The NIE says the Pakistani military is reluctant to launch an all-out campaign against the Taliban in part because of popular opposition to continuing the co-operation with the US. The aim of the assessment is to determine whether a US presence in the region can be effective and if so, what the US strategy should be. Daily Times; Dawn, October 11, 2008.
21 Taliban militants killed in air strikes in Swat: At least 21 Taliban militants were killed in air strikes on their hideouts in the Ghat Peochar and Landai Sarshur areas of Swat District in the NWFP, a military spokesman Colonel Nadeem said on October 9. The air strikes also destroyed several suspected Taliban hideouts. Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan, however, denied the military’s claims. He said, out of the 20 missiles fired, one hit a primary school and three others hit several houses. No loss of life was caused as a result of the attacks, he claimed. Daily Times, October 10, 2008.
25 persons killed in suicide blast at PML-N MP’s house in Bhakkar: A suicide bomber blew himself up in a crowd of people at the house of Rashid Akbar Niwani, a Shia Member of the National Assembly from the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) at Bhakkar in the Punjab province, 260 kilometres southwest of national capital Islamabad. The explosion killed 25 persons and wounded 60 others, including Niwani. "It was a suicide attack, the head of the bomber has been recovered," said senior police officer Khadim Hussain. Local hospital chief, Chaudhry Ahsanul Haq, said that Niwani had suffered leg injuries. No organisation claimed responsibility for the attack. Local officials, however, said Niwani might have been targeted because he is Shia and lives in an area where there have been frequent sectarian attacks blamed on al Qaeda and Taliban-linked Sunni groups. Nawani has spoken out in Parliament several times recently against growing sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shias. Daily Times, October 7, 2008.
US drone strikes kill 20 persons in North Waziristan: United States air strikes on three villages in North Waziristan in FATA killed at least 20 people on October 1 and October 3. Intelligence officials said a pilot-less drone aircraft launched an attack on the Mohammad Khel village, 30-kilometres west of Miranshah, at around 9:30pm (PST) on October 3. An unnamed intelligence official said at least 12 people had been killed in the attack, including some foreigners, although Taliban sources in the area later told Reuters that eight persons were killed and seven others wounded.
Separately, Pakistani intelligence officials reported another US air strike earlier on October 3 on Datta Khel village, situated closer to the border with Afghanistan, in which at least three persons were killed.
On October 1, five people had been killed in a US strike, eight kilometers south of the town of Mir Ali. Reports said that a US pilot-less drone fired two missiles at a house in the area. Daily Times, October 4, 2008.
Five persons killed as ANP chief escapes suicide attack in Charsadda: A suicide bomber blew himself up as he tried to enter a house owned by the Awami National Party (ANP) chief, Asfandyar Wali Khan, in the NWFP on October 2, killing four, officials said. Khan, the chairman of the Pakistani Parliament's Foreign Relations Committee, however, escaped unhurt in the attack. The incident took place in the town of Charsadda outside a hujra (guest house) belonging to Khan, a member of the ruling coalition. The bomb exploded as Wali was visiting a guest in a room attached to the house during celebrations for the festival of Eid-ul-Fitr, police and party officials told AFP. ‘Four people were killed in the suicide blats. The target was Asfandyar Wali but he is safe,’ Mian Iftikhar, the Information Minister for the NWFP, told local television. Provincial Police chief, Malik Naveed, told AFP that guards shot the bomber before he blew himself up. "The suicide bomber tried to pass from the security scanner avoiding a physical search. Two security guards grabbed him but he tried to get away," Naveed said, adding, "Then he was shot and as soon as he fell on the ground he blew himself up." Police said the other victims included a Policeman and a bank manager who was visiting to pay his respects to Khan. Meanwhile, Haji Adeel, a senior ANP member told Dawn, "The incident happened outside the hujra (guest house). One suicide bomber was trying to enter, he was stopped but the bomber blasted himself. The guard was killed." Dawn, October 3, 2008.
Anti-Taliban offensive continues in Bajaur: At least 64 Taliban terrorists were killed in the past week in a continued air and land offensive by the security forces (SFs) against Taliban militants in the Bajaur Agency of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). While five Taliban militants were killed in the Rashakai area, the SFs killed at least four others at Tang Khatta on September 28. On September 29, 13 people, including nine tribesmen and four Taliban militants, including a Taliban commander, Abdul Muttalib, were killed following a clash in the Darra area of Salarzai Tehsil (revenue division). Meanwhile, residents said Government helicopters dropped leaflets in various parts of the Agency calling for support. Also, thousands of Charmang tribesmen following in the footsteps of Salarzai and Utmankhel tribes announced the formation of a grand laskhar to launch a massive crackdown against militants in the Agency and vowed to fight shoulder-to-shoulder with the Pakistan Army. The Charmang tribes have announced the launch of the campaign from the Fourth Day of Eid-ul-Fitr. Four Taliban militants were killed and two others were wounded in the shelling of a vehicle at Mamoond town, when tribesmen backed by Army helicopter gunships fought the Taliban on September 30. Troops killed another five Taliban militants after they launched an attack on a military checkpost in the same town, leading to a gun battle that lasted nearly an hour. Separately, at least 13 Taliban militants were killed and 10 others injured when a Qaumi lashkar (nationalist army) of the Salarzai tribe launched an operation against the militants in the Dara, Mullah Syed and Banda areas of Salarzai tehsil on October 1. An elder of the tribe was also killed in the operation. Troops backed by artillery killed 25 Taliban militants in the villages of Rashakai, Tang Khata, Bai Cheena and Khazana on October 2. The residents of Mamoond also decided to form a lashkar to combat the Taliban. Meanwhile, Afghan refugees started leaving Bajaur Agency following a three-day deadline given by the local administration for them to vacate the Agency, locals said. Earlier, the local Government had ordered Afghan refugees in Bajaur to leave the area within three days, said a Government official. There are an estimated 70,000 Afghan refugees in Bajaur, who have been living there since the late 1970s after fleeing the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Dawn; Daily Times, September 30- October 6, 2008.
US cites laws, UN Charter to justify FATA raids: The United States (US) Defence Secretary Robert Gates said that international laws allow the US to take unilateral actions inside Pakistan. In two separate statements and during a hearing at a Senate panel, the top US defence official made it clear that the US considered insurgency in FATA the greatest danger confronting the West and was willing to send its troops to root out extremism if it felt the need to do so. At the Senate panel hearing, Gates agreed with Democratic Senator Jim Webb who had told him that the United Nations Charter — under which the US operates in Afghanistan — gave the US the right of self-defence where a foreign government was either unable or unwilling to take care of international terrorist activity inside its borders. Gates said: "The authorities we have been granted were carefully coordinated over a protracted period of time in the interagency." He told the Senate Armed Services Committee: "I would simply assume that… appropriate international law was consulted by the State Department." In a written statement before the Committee, Gates said that "insecurity and violence" in the Afghan-Pakistan region "will persist… until the insurgency is deprived of safe-havens" in Pakistan’s tribal areas. And, the US Defence Chief told the National Defence University in Washington that the US had to act against terrorists hiding in Afghanistan and Pakistan because it could not afford to fail. Earlier, Gates explained that Pakistan could not defeat terrorism on its own. "Pakistani Government doesn’t have the capacity to launch unilateral operation against militants inside its borders," he said. He noted that the US depended on Pakistani road links to send 80 per cent of its supplies and 40 per cent of fuel into Afghanistan. He said that while the US was looking for alternative channels, it could not afford to ignore Pakistan.
Meanwhile, US military commander David Petraeus said that Pakistan must deal with the threat from the Taliban. "This is a threat to Pakistan’s very existence and it is one with which they must deal. Now, they can deal with it in a comprehensive manner," he said after talks with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in London.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said that the Government will never give in to terrorism. Chairing a meeting to review law and order, he said it was a positive move on the part of tribesmen to join the Security Forces to expel the Taliban from the FATA. Separately, in an interview with Newsweek magazine, he said Pakistan was on his (President Asif Ali Zardari’s) side in the fight against terror. Further, on October 1, he condemned the US attacks inside Pakistani territory and termed them 'terrorism', according to Dawn. Regarding the ongoing military operations in north-western Pakistan, he reiterated that the war against terrorism was Pakistan’s own war. Dawn; Daily Times, September 30- October 2, 2008.
No timeframe to call off operation, say military sources: Operations against militants had been a mixed bag of success and setbacks and no timeframe could be given about the ongoing campaigns, sources in the military said in a media briefing on September 29. "It is a continual operation. It is not going to end in 2008 and it is not going to end in 2009. Don’t be optimistic, as far as the timeframe is concerned. It is a different ground and it will take some time," military officials said. These sources were optimistic that Operation Sherdil (Lionheart) was well on course to achieving its objective of gaining control over the Bajaur tribal region. In Bajaur, they added, the militants had been putting up stiff resistance, improving tactics and communications, reinforcements and heavy weapons from across the border. The security forces had lost 69 men and 230 men had been wounded since the beginning of the operation in Bajaur last month. The sources declined to give an exact figure for militant casualties, but hazarding a guess, put the toll in the region of 600.
The Swat District was a different story altogether as Operation ‘Rah-i-Haq II’ (Path of Right) had its setbacks following the NWFP Government’s peace agreements with militants in May, the sources said, expressing regret that gains made in last year’s operation in Swat had been wasted after elections. "We believe the agreement of May 21, 2008, was signed from a position of weakness," sources added. "We can finish the Swat operation in a week if there is no consideration for collateral damage," he said.
Sources further disclosed that the security forces had suffered a total of 1,368 casualties in the war on terror since 2001, while 3,348 personnel had been wounded. Meanwhile, 2,825 Taliban, including 581 foreigners and 2,244 locals had been killed. 1,400 Taliban were injured over the same period, which included 311 foreigners and 1,089 locals. Dawn, September 30, 2008.
[South Asian Intelligence Review]
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