August 1, 2008 | FDD’s Long War Journal

Pakistani military abandons forts in South Waziristan

A sketch map of North and South Waziristan. Map from The Khyber Gateway. Click to view.

The Pakistani military has begun to abandon forts in the Taliban-controlled tribal agency of South Waziristan. The Frontier Corps are leaving outposts in the Mehsud tribal areas, according to reports in the Pakistani media.

The Frontier Corps has abandoned the Ladha Fort and all of their outposts in the Saam region in South Waziristan, The News reported. Ladha is near Makeen, the home town of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud.

The Frontier Corps claimed the Ladha Fort was vacated at the wishes of local tribal leaders and would be converted into a hospital. Frontier Corps Inspector General Major General Mohammad Alam Khattak attempted to downplay concerns that the paramilitaries were leaving due to Taliban pressure, and claimed a new outpost would be set up elsewhere in Ladha.

Reports from Saam indicate the Frontier Corps left the region because the paramilitaries faced “tremendous hardships while sending supplies for the troops in the fort.”

The Taliban used the Frontier Corps retreat to taunt the military and government. “It is our victory and defeat of the government that it ultimately realized that its troops could not stay in the [Ladha fort] without our will,” an anonymous local Taliban commander told Daily Times.

Taliban spokesman Mullah Omar also promised his forces would occupy the Ladha Fort and other positions abandoned in Saam, as has been done in the northern tribal agency of Bajaur.

“Look I am talking to you from Badan Kot post which the government had vacated. We will definitely capture all those posts vacated by the Frontier Corps in Ladha and Saam,” Omar told The News. The Frontier Corps recently vacated four outposts in Bajaur, where the Taliban and al Qaeda have a safe haven.

The Taliban consolidate hold on South Waziristan

The Frontier Corps retreat from Ladha and Saam marks a major victory for the Taliban. The Taliban fought pitched battles against the Frontier Corps and the regular Army in South Waziristan in late 2007 and early 2008.

A Taliban force captured a company of Pakistani regular Army forces in September 2007, and paraded their captives on television several weeks later.

Fighting intensified in January 2008, when the Pakistani military launched an offensive in South Waziristan after the Taliban brazenly launched major attacks against Pakistani troops and on a series of forts in the region. The Taliban were able to overrun several forts in the region.

On Jan. 16, the Taliban overran the Sararogha Fort after conducting a conventional nighttime assault with a force estimated between 500 and 1,000 fighters. The Taliban killed 16 Frontier Corps soldiers manning the base and captured 24. There have been no reports of the military retaking the Sararogha Fort.

The Taliban also overran the Saklatoi Fort after Frontier Corps paramilitaries surrendered the outpost. Sixty members of the Frontier Corps were captured. Pakistani commandos of the Special Services Group retook the outpost in a helicopter assault on the Saklatoi Fort on January 19, just one day the military denied the fort was in Taliban control.

The Taliban also made three attempts to overrun the fort at Ladha. Pakistani forces repelled the attacks, but at high costs. Scores of paramilitaries were killed, wounded, or captured while defending the outpost at Ladha.

The Pakistani military launched an operation to clear the Taliban from South Waziristan on January 24, but halted the offensive on February 2 after ten days of heavy fighting. The military initiated a ceasefire and started negotiations with Baitullah.

Background on recent peace agreements between the government and the Taliban

The security situation in northwestern Pakistan and in neighboring Afghanistan has rapidly deteriorated since the government initiated its latest round of peace accords with the Taliban and allied extremists in the tribal areas and settled districts in the Northwest Frontier Province. Peace agreements have been signed with the Taliban in North Waziristan, Swat, Dir, Bajaur, Malakand, Mohmand, Khyber, Orakzai, and Hangu.

Negotiations are underway in South Waziristan, Kohat, and Mardan. The Taliban have violated the terms of these agreements in every region where accords have been signed.

The Taliban, al Qaeda, and allied terrorist groups have established more than 100 terror camps in the tribal areas and the Northwest Frontier Province, US intelligence officials have told The Long War Journal.

On July 23, Prime Minister Syed Yusaf Raza Gilani and his cabinet were told that more than 8,000 foreign fighters were operating in the tribal areas.