Counter-Terrorism: Another Al Qaeda Last Stand

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September 29, 2008: The Taliban and their al Qaeda allies have been fighting a large, and losing, battle against the army in the Pakistani region of Bajaur (right on the Afghan border). The fighting has been going on for a month now, and the terrorists have lost about a thousand dead, while the army has lost only 27 dead. The large disparity in losses is largely due to the Pakistani use of air power (bombers and helicopters) and artillery. The army controls the roads, forcing the Taliban to concentrate their forces, to avoid getting taken apart by road (and helicopter) mobile Pakistani infantry.

The fighting began when the Taliban, who had always been dominant in Bajaur, sought to take over completely and drive government officials out. The army responded with over 10,000 troops, and more following, and went after the towns, villages and walled compounds known to be bases for the enemy. The Taliban did not expect the army to respond so energetically. But the Taliban had prepared ambushes along the roads (by renting houses, and digging tunnels and bunkers next to them for shelter from artillery and bombs). In response, the army detected these preparations (with air reconnaissance, patrols and local informants), and avoided, or destroyed, these positions.

The situation has become so dire that the Bajaur Taliban has called for reinforcements from other Taliban groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Since most of the Pakistani Taliban are tribe based, not a lot of Taliban tribesmen have been showing up. But the al Qaeda forces (which are mostly Arabs, Chechens, Uzbeks and other foreigners) did arrive in large numbers. Al Qaeda gunmen were not immune to the army firepower, and four of the five known leaders killed, and identified, were foreign al Qaeda men.

The army believes that it will have destroyed the Taliban in Bajaur by the end of the year. The army has openly vowed to win in Bajaur, and keep their own casualties down while doing it. Pakistani soldiers have noted the ability of foreign and Afghan troops to do the same in Afghanistan, and wanted to operate the same way. This is in contrast to the way things usually work. For centuries, the Pushtun tribes have had the edge in their own mountains and valleys, and soldiers from the outside had a hard time of it. The Pakistani army is determined to show that times have changed, and that the tribes are no longer supreme in their own territory. In the past, the one tactic that worked against the Pushtun tribes was mass murder. That's how the Mongols pacified the region, but such wholesale destruction of villages and civilians is no longer acceptable. However, the U.S. tactics of scouting and long range fire power does work, even when the armed tribesmen take cover among civilians (who now do all they can to flee when they see the fighting headed their way.)

 

 

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