Taliban Ally Harkat ul Mujahideen Controls Mohmand

In Saturday’s report from Pakistan I noted that there was fighting between militant units of Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan. Post fighting it appears the TTP / Harkat ul Mujahideen force beat the Lashkar e Taiber (Tayyaba) force and is now in control of Mohmand Agency as outcome of that. Umar Khalid is their leader, and this appears to be the same group(s) responsible for the Kohat fighting last year. The LeT group is mostly derived from the Kashmir intifada fighters against India, they are responsible for many of the terror attacks there in the past, and have direct alliance with Al Qaeda.

From the Daily Times:

The Mohmand Agency has come under the “complete control” of Umar Khalid after he eliminated another jihadi organisation operating in the area, local residents told Daily Times.

Khalid, a Safi tribesman who is commanding the Taliban in a very strategic tribal district, took “greater control” of Mohmand following a bloody campaign against the Shah Sahib militant group, whose chief and deputy chief were among eight killed on Friday. “He (Umar Khalid) is the strongest and most influential Taliban leader after Baitullah Mehsud and Maulvi Faqir,” residents told Daily Times by phone from Ghalanai.

A member of the militant group, following a meeting with Umar Khalid, said that there was now less likelihood that a fact-finding team sent from Baitullah Mehsud would penalise Khalid for his July 18 actions against the Shah Sahib group.

People from the banned militant organisation Lashkar-e-Tayyaba had originally led the group. “Any group not showing allegiance to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan will not be tolerated in the Mohmand Agency,” Khalid had told reporters in his first press conference after taking over the headquarters of the rival jihadi outfit.

Also note that Jaish e Muhammed and HuM have fought old differences with HuJI over the Kashmir, and at one point they were part of Harkat Ansar, here’s more from WebIndia.

I’m not sure if this is a case of pushing the bubble in one place and having it bulge out another – e.g. are these mostly jihadis who fled from the earlier offenses in Khyber, Swat, or Hangu, or is it just one of power consolidation? It’s more likely the latter as Baitullah steadily campaigned to put NWFP under his power in a series of strategic moves from FATA. Baitullah also has compiled an enemies list of 300 prominent leaders from PPP, ANP, and MQM, expect targetted suicide assassinations to continue.

From the way that the government stopped the offense and is negotiating peace in Hangu from their knees, I would wager he could make it through a quarter of that list before the coalition stops infighting and he gets real, committed response back. As long as the government’s offenses against Taliban remain “poking at the edges” instead of directed attacks against the leaders, they will continue to fail.

Update: Bill Roggio has more details at The Long War Journal.

TTP Taliban Re-Declares War on Pakistan

The Civil war in Pakistan has heated up again with assaults on proto-Taliban agents of Mangal Bagh in the Khyber pass (Taliban groups in Pakistan change names as the occasion or the goal allows, and they sub-contract with each other. In this case they are furthering tribal goals of Mangal Bagh and theirs as well. The Taliban goal here is retribution against the tribal forces that denied their takeover of the Khyber pass, Mangal’s is to extend his power.) Namdar, who leads the forces opposed to Mangal Bagh, is no friend to the US either but his desire to maintain control of the region counteracts that of the TTP/Mehsuds. Bill Roggio has a slideshow of the extremist leaders here.

This is the outcome I predicted in posts last year – when the new Government got rid of the old laws they failed to fill the vacumn, creating a power grab by every petty warlord in the frontiers. They removed the old power bases and authorities and didn’t replace it with anything.

As always the main Taliban forces fled before the Government forces arrived. This is the usual dumb-show cat and mouse we’ve seen for several years in the frontiers. In most cases the Frontier Corps will flee their checkpoint, base, or observation post before a Taliban attack, and the Taliban will flee their “hideouts” before the government attacks. It’s as if both sides know what the other is going to do in advance, and there appears to be a lot of winking and nudging going on in lower ranks.

Meanwhile the Pakistan Taliban Shura is following Baitullah Mehsud and has backed completely out of the peace talks, putting back in force the declaration of war from last September, once again showing they are really the lapdogs of Bin Laden and Zawahiri.

Taliban Update: Suicide Assasination Attempt on Namdar Fails

Namdar\'s Offices BombedThe Taliban affiliated group, Lashkar-e-Islami,  leading the failed efforts in the Khyber Pass sought retribution today with a suicide bomber attack on one of their Tribal opponent’s offices. The blast killed several, but Namdar was not present so like the Karzai attempt it was a strike-out.

Namdar led the tribal turning that destroyed the recent Taliban efforts to block the Khyber and interdict supplies to the US forces North in Afghanistan. More from NDTV:

Several people were feared killed on Thursday when a suicide bomber blew himself up at the office of an Islamic group in Pakistan’s restive Khyber Agency, officials said.

The suicide bomber targeted the office of the ”Amar bil maroof wa nahee aanelmunkar” (promotion of virtue and prevention of vice force), the religious police of a group led by Haji Namdar at Bara, the main town of the northwestern Khyber Agency.

A spokesman for Haji Namdar said the head of the suicide bomber has been found.

Official sources said Haji Namdar was the actual target of the attack though he escaped unhurt. He is a rival of Mangal Bagh Afridi, another radical leader who heads the Lashkar-e-Islam group.

The sources said they feared the death toll could rise as several of the injured were in a critical condition. The seriously injured were rushed to hospitals in Peshawar, capital of the North West Frontier Province.

When the Taliban first announced their plans in the Khyber I predicted doom for them since there are too many vested tribal interests in the area, and they are not going to allow outside interference in their region. The Wazirs lost miserably, tucked their tails and ran into a trap where they were killed. They will undoubtably continue to seek retribution, but if that goes on much longer they might stir up something they don’t like. The Khyber agency tribes are cunning and they are better trained and more capable than the Taliban — they aren’t going to put up with this.

In other news Syed at Asia times details the failed attack on Karzai, making it out to be more than it was, the important nugget here is the cooperation between Hekmatyar and Haqqani. That indicates to me that the Afghanistan Taliban are more stressed than portrayed, and it also indicates the source of their arms. Hekmatyar has long ties to elements in Iran, and he is their agent of instability in Afghanistan.

While Syed portrays the actions as smart, the reality is that failed efforts kill innocents, and steel more of the Pashtun against the Taliban. The fact that they are now working tight with Hekmatyar again isn’t going to win them friends either.

In a more recent article Asia times details the alignment of Taliban forces and leaders, but the reality is that they are down to fourth and fifth string leaders. Callow, inexperienced rookies for the most part, who will crumble now that the surge is on and the marines have landed.

The Spring offensive this year will be against the Taliban, not by the Taliban. They will try to slip small groups north, attack aid workers and other soft targets, I expect night visits to villages and school burnings as usual, but they can’t mount an effective campaign. They will try to grab headlines in other words rather than try to win.

The Taliban’s Afghanistan Strategy

The Taliban strategy in the Khyber is bound to fail, as I’ve said in the past, but it won’t fail for want of trying. Syed at The Asia Times outlines it here, and in past articles (note that much of this is part of the Taliban’s new media blitz now that Al Masri is dead and Haqqani has grabbed the reins for Afghanistan.)

Reading between the lines you see that the Taliban is really incapable of mounting a real offense, so instead they will rely on three things:

  1. Kidnappings to gain press, points in the Islamic “who’s more Jihadi” propaganda contest,  and funding.
  2. Continued Suicide bombings whenever they can find a willing victim (someone young or mentally deficient who they can manipulate to do their dirty work.)
  3. Continued attempts to interdict supplies to Afghanistan.

(More on why the Taliban can’t mount a real offense later.)

Syed’s got some Taliban contacts, but generally what we get from him is what we already know and just what the Taliban want us to see. What’s not said is the educational part.

The attempts to blow the Kohat tunnel, the ongoing war vs. oil Tanker trucks, and the recent bridge bombing are attempts to stop supplies to the US and ISAF forces in Afghanistan, as well as to the Afghanistan army.

However it amounts to war on commerce between Pakistan and Afghanistan, and if the attempts actually succeed in blocking the pass (highly unlikely) the backlash will be tough for the Taliban. Not only will they stop supplies to the forces, they will stop supplies to tribal regions already feeling some bite from rising staples prices.  The more they work inside Pakistan, then the more of their base and support structure they reveal, and the more revealed the more destroyed. With the help of Islamic operatives from various countries it’s becoming much easier to pin down their leadership and forces inside Pakistan as well.

While they would like to think they match General Giap, they fail to. Giap had a large, strong ally who resupplied them with more tanks, guns, and ammo than the German army had in WWII for the final push that won. I don’t think the Taliban has that kind of friend right now – and if any country tried to do that I’ll just be blunt and state that they would get destroyed.

They also forget that Giap lost and lost again most of the war. South Viet Nam was still there after we left, and had we applied air support then Giap would have failed again. It was a strange moment in history that created those conditions – that combination of events in the US will never happen again, US demographics alone prevents it. (e.g. While the Democrats have slight control of the legislature they had to elect Conservative Democrats to get there, and anti-war sentiment is nowhere near as strong as it was in the 60’s.) So the Taliban base their hope for victory on the forlorn hope that we will act like we did 30 odd years ago, but it’s just not going to happen, Afghanistan is still largely viewed as “The good war” in the US.

Here’s a hint: When Al Qaeda failed in Iraq, they really failed at the Giap strategy.

Also if AQ and the Taliban are counting on large scale support from Iran as Giap got from the Soviet Union and China, they better forget it. Iran’s playing their covert support role in Pakistan and Afghanistan for a reason, they want to keep both unstable. If they do that long enough then perhaps they can extend eastward at the right moment. Witness the recent pull back from Basra if you need more proof, they aren’t going to go overt and massive in support.

AQ and the allied Taliban have figured out that working inside urban areas of Pakistan is causing them problems, and many urban sympathizers in the Sindh and Punjab have turned from Jihad specifically because of that. It doesn’t pay to rile up the Sindh and Punjab, Pashtuns always lose when that happens. The problem is that the realization is too little too late for the urban areas, and to do anything more there they will have to continue working through students and criminal resources, not the best allies they would hope for.

In the Pakistan frontiers the tribals have figured out that opposition to the Taliban at the moment isn’t wise until the new government sorts itself out, so while AQ and allies might get a lot of visible support at rallies and gatherings, what’s overt doesn’t always match what is covert. They better watch their backs – large swaths of Pakistan are now highly disaffected with the Taliban and their AQ allies. Also note that party affiliations aren’t a good score card as to who’s who anymore, the elections changed a lot of things besides who’s in office.

Why can’t the Afghanistan Taliban mount a reasonable effective campaign?

There are several reasons – the first being the disaffection already spoken of. While they gain lip-service from many, they gain actual participation from few. The other problems are that their key leadership has been destroyed to a large extent over the past two years, and what’s in place is green, or if they are veteran, then they are third or fourth or fifth string. Another reason has been the steady decrement of actual Afghan refugees within both Pakistan and Iran — the recruit pool both inside Pakistan and from without has shrunk. Another reason is the fact that nowadays if you go to fight in Afghanistan, it’s likely that you will face Muslims in the form of the ANA and other foreign operatives in country.

However the main reason is that the Taliban and AQ are flagging – the fractionalization into the previous warlord structure prevents support. The warlords in Afghanistan know that if they actively participate that the US and ISAF will get around to them. It might take some time, but they will get there. Along with that you have the situation inside Pakistan – Baitullah Mehsud is not going to bare his throat to the PPP and others by sending a large amount of his forces in support of a now lost cause. You can forget about that.

One last word: The new strategy is bluster, boast, and mostly distraction. AQ has set their sights elsewhere, whether that’s still Pakistan remains to be seen. The current lull in terror activity could be the lull before the storm, or it could be that the AQ/Taliban is now stinking, rotten, fruit fallen from the vine to the eyes of former supporters.

UPDATE: I might end up eating some crow here if the current blockage of Torkham continues any length of time.