June 29, 2008 | FDD’s Long War Journal

Pakistani military advances in Khyber

The military operation in Pakistan's tribal agency of Khyber completed its second day. The military said the operation is limited in scope, while the Taliban have again threatened to attack the Pakistani government.

The Pakistani paramilitary Frontier Corps is reported to have cleared a region run by the Lashkar-e-Islam. Paramilitary forces occupied the high ground and cleared the subdistrict of Bara, a stronghold of Lashkar-e-Islam and Haji Namdar's radical Islamist group. One commander of the Lashkar-e-Islam was reported killed.

The operation is said to be directly targeting the Ansar-ul-Islam, Lashkar-e-Islam, and Namdar's forces. The government has refused to name the specific targets of the operation, but Ansar-ul-Islam, Lashkar-e-Islam, and Namdar's group have been officially banned by the government.

The Frontier Corps used artillery and armored vehicles in clearing Bara. The Army has stayed out of the fight but has supported the operation with Cobra attack helicopters. Two bunkers and a prison run by Lashkar-e-Islam were destroyed, and Mangal Bagh's home was burned to the ground. Bagh, the leader of the Lashkar-e-Islam, is said to have escaped to a neighboring area in Khyber.

Haji Namdar runs a Taliban group called the Promotion of Virtue and Suppression of Vice. The Taliban group enforces a strict version of sharia, or Islamic law, and advocates fighting US forces in Afghanistan. Namdar's followers beat Muslims for shaving their beards and neglecting to attend mosque. His forces are said to have merged with the Lashkar-e-Islam, a powerful Taliban-like group that is fighting rivals of the Ansar-ul-Islam.

The Lashkar-e-Islam and Namdar's forces have opted not to fight the government forces. “The security forces have demolished our commander's house and our main centre, but we have decided not to fight them,” said Commander Wahid, a Lashkar-e-Islam military leader. “We are not Taliban.”

Namdar's spokesman indicated the Khyber-based extremists are seeking negotiations. “If the government thinks there is any issue to address, that should be resolved through talks, not by the use of force,” said Munsif Khan. “We are ready for talks with the government.

“Limited objectives”

While the government has touted the operation in Khyber as a major effort against the Taliban in the tribal areas, the senior military commander in charge of the operation indicated the operation is limited in scope.

“This operation has limited objectives and it may continue for five or six days depending upon the situation,” said Major General Mohammad Alam Khattak, the Inspector-General of Frontier Corps. “This is a combined operation and the purpose of the large-scale deployment is a minimum use of force and maximum deterrence.”

An unnamed security official told Dawn that the operation is a show of force designed to send a message. “We just want to show them (militants) what is in store for them,” he said.

The operation is clearly designed to relieve Taliban pressure on Peshawar, the provincial capital. Taliban activities in and around Peshawar have increased the past year, prompting government officials, business leaders, and military and police officers to sound the alarm of a Taliban takeover.

The Frontier Corps has closed all of the nine roads leading to Peshawar and has placed “layers upon layers” of defensive positions to “protect the provincial capital,” according to Dawn. “Tanks were deployed at a paramilitary base in Hayatabad, separating settled area [Peshawar] from the tribal region [Khyber].”

The Frontier Corps is also said to be recruiting a tribal force to secure the region from the Lashkar-e-Islam.

Baitullah Mehsud threatens the Pakistani state

Pakistani Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud reiterated his call for a suspension of talks in South Waziristan and throughout the tribal agencies and the Northwest Frontier Province. Baitullah also repeated his threat to attack state institutions throughout Pakistan.

“The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan [the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan] is suspending peace talks with the government,” Baitullah told Dawn “This will apply not just to South Waziristan but all areas, including Swat.” He threatened to wage “jihad.”

“If the [security forces] operations continue, people will see the [provinces of] Sindh and Punjab turn into furnace,” Baitullah threatened. “It will be unfortunate if violence engulfs the whole region again,” Baitullah said, referring to the suicide bombing and military campaign launched by the Taliban in 2007.

Attacks against US and NATO forces would continue in Afghanistan regardless of what happens in Pakistan, Baitullah told Dawn. He also threatened to wage “jihad” against the Pakistani Army if it aided US attacks against the Taliban in Pakistan.

The Taliban continue attacks in Swat

While the operation in Khyber is ongoing, the Taliban have continued attacks in the settled district of Swat.

Two soldiers were killed in a roadside bomb attack while on patrol in Swat. Another three civilians were killed in separate shootings.

The Taliban also bombed a market in Mingora. The blast destroyed 25 shops. No casualties were reported. Police found a “suicide jacket, mortar shells, rocket launchers, hand grenades and other explosives” after searching the area.

The Taliban conducted a series of attacks against police and paramilitary forces last week. Swat's only ski resort was burned down and the family of a local politician was murdered during the rampage.

For more information on the military operation in Khyber, see Pakistan strikes at Taliban in Khyber agency.

For more information on Pakistan's military operations against the Taliban over the last year, see Pakistan's inconclusive military operations against the Taliban.

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