June 28, 2008 | FDD’s Long War Journal

Pakistan’s inconclusive military operations against the Taliban

 The Pakistani military operation in the tribal agency of Khyber is the latest offensive against the Taliban in northwestern Pakistan since the government assaulted the extremist Red Mosque in Islamabad in July 2007.

The offensives against the Taliban have been limited in size and scope. There is no coordinated campaign plan to address the wider problem of Taliban control in northwestern Pakistan. Counterinsurgency is not a consideration. Instead, the districts and tribal agencies are treated as discreet problems. Meanwhile the Taliban reinforce their neighbors and provide sanctuary during the fighting.

With the exception of the action against the Taliban in Swat, the operations have lasted for only several weeks. The fighting has never led to a conclusive outcome.

The military and the government initiate ceasefires and peace agreements just as the fighting intensifies. The Taliban have come out of the fighting in a better position to assert their power as the government and the military is viewed as weak and indecisive.

Below is a list of the major operations fought since July 2007 and the outcomes.

Islamabad, July 2007:

The Pakistani government ordered a siege and subsequent full scale assault on the Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, in Islamabad in July. The mosque and madrassa were run by Taliban-linked extremists Abdul Aziz and Abdul Rasheed Ghazi.

Aziz and Ghazi directed their followers to impose sharia, or Islamic law, in neighborhoods in the heart of Islamabad. Their followers kidnapped policemen and beat those who would not comply with sharia.

More than 100 extremists, including Ghazi, were killed during the attack and several hundred were captured, including Aziz. Eleven Pakistani soldiers were killed.

The assault was perhaps the most decisive action against the Taliban, but the results were short lived. Extremists retook the Lal Masjid just one day after it was reopened. All of those detained, with the exception of Aziz, have been released. Aziz is expected to make bail this year.

North Waziristan, July – August 2007:

Fighting flared in North Waziristan immediate after the assault on the Lal Masjid. Taliban forces ambushed Pakistani military convoys and checkpoints throughout the tribal agency and conducted suicide attacks against military forces.. Nearly 100 Pakistani soldiers were killed and more than 100 wounded during heavy fighting. Dozens of Taliban were also killed during the fighting.

The Pakistani military attempted to hold territory but were repelled and forced to return to garrison. The military then resorted to conducting helicopter and air strikes against Taliban positions. The fighting ebbed in August as it flared in neighboring South Waziristan and the government scrambled to save the North Waziristan peace agreement.

South Waziristan, August – September 2007:

The Taliban conducted its most successful military operation during 2007 in South Waziristan. A small Taliban forces captured a convoy of more than 300 Pakistani soldiers without a shot being fired. The Pakistani government negotiated with Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud to secure their release after several ineffectual clashes. The Taliban paraded the captured soldiers in October.

In mid-Decemebr, a council of 40 senior Taliban leaders established the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan — the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan — and appointed Baitullah its leader.

North Waziristan, October 2007:

The Pakistani military and the Taliban fought pitched battles in North Waziristan during October 2007. The military launched artillery barrages and helicopter and attack aircraft assaults against Taliban controlled villages in North Waziristan. The Taliban responded by setting up complex ambushes, including surface to air missile traps, a senior US military intelligence official told The Long War Journal. Several Pakistani Army helicopters were said to have been shot down during the fighting.

The Pakistani military claimed 120 Taliban and 45 soldiers have been killed in the fighting, but independent reports put the number of soldiers killed much higher.

The government pushed for a peace deal at the end of October and the fighting waned. An official peace agreement was signed in February 2008.

Swat & Shangla, October 2007 – January 2008:

The Pakistani military launched an operation to retake the settled district of Swat after Mullah Fazlullah forces overran police stations and paramilitary outposts. The neighboring district of Shangla was overrun by the Taliban in November. More than 200 policemen and soldiers were killed during fighting in Swat in 2007.

The military said the operation to retake Swat would be over by December 15 and the ski resort would be open for business. The Taliban was driven from Shangla in November and fighting tapered off in Swat in February after the military made some gains. But the government never took full control over the district. The resort was burned down this week, while the government signed a peace agreement with the Taliban in May.

South Waziristan, January – February 2008:

Heavy fighting between the Taliban and the military flared up in late January after the military launched yet another offensive to dislodge the extremists from entrenched positions. Prior to the military's offensive, the Taliban overran two military forts and conducted numerous attacks against Pakistani forces. More than a dozen of Pakistan's elite counterterrorism commandos were killed in a single engagement.

The military claimed to eject the Taliban from strongholds in Kotkai and Jandola and said it killed Qari Hussain, a senior Taliban leader who trains suicide bombers. Hussain mocked the government after appearing in a press conference in May. The Taliban recently retook Jandola after murdering dozens from a rival tribe while the military looked on. The military has pulled back to bases on the outskirts of South Waziristan.

Orakzai and Kohat, January 2008:

As fighting was underway in South Waziristan at the end of January, the Taliban launched attacks against government forces in the tribal agency of Orakzai and the neighboring settled district of Kohat.

In Orakzai, Pakistani troops battled Taliban fighters in the city of Darra Adam Khel after the Taliban hijacked a military convoy carrying supplies and ammunition for Pakistani troops. Six soldiers were captured during the hijacking and 14 more were captured during the subsequent fighting. The military halted the offensive after a peace jirga, or committee, requested the suspension of operations. The Taliban subsequently paraded the 14 hostages in a bazaar in Darra Adam Khel.

In Kohat, the Taliban captured the strategic Kohat Tunnel, which links Peshawar to the southern agencies and districts. Forty Frontier Corps troops were captured and eight were “slaughtered” while attempting to regain control of the tower at the peak of the Kohat Tunnel Mountain.

The military retook the tunnel after heavy fighting. The Taliban damaged the tunnel while attempting to it blow up during the retreat.

After the fighting, the Taliban have been collecting taxes from drivers on the road. The government is currently negotiating a peace agreement with the Taliban in Kohat.

Khyber, June 2008: The military launched an operation to clear Khyber after the Taliban began to threatened the provincial capital of Peshawar.


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