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Apr 22nd, 2010

On the Run, Pakistan Militants Find New Haven

Taliban and al-Qaida fighters have merely relocated to other border areas

Image: Pakistan army outside of a cave allegedly used by militants in Taliban stronghold
Pakistani army soldiers patrol outside a cave allegedly used by Taliban militants in Pakistan’s Waziristan tribal region along the Afghanistan border. (Photo credit: Naveed Sultan / AP file)

By Chris Brummitt

April 21, 2010

ISLAMABAD — They were never routed, no matter what Pakistan claimed. Instead, the Taliban and al-Qaida fighters have merely relocated. They’re still near the Afghan border.

Months after Pakistani troops chased them from South Waziristan, these militants have established a new base farther north under the protection of an insurgent leader who has cut past deals with the Pakistani army, according to residents, militants and reports from Associated Press correspondents who visited recently.

The fighters — including Arabs, Chechens and Uzbeks — roam through markets, frequent restaurants and watch jihadi movies or surf the Web at Internet cafes, their weapons propped up against the table. Pakistani troops wave them through checkpoints even though they’re armed with assault rifles and rocket launchers.

These are the new VIPs in Pakistan’s most dangerous region, North Waziristan.

The influx of these militants in North Waziristan in recent months adds to pressure on the army to launch an offensive there, and raises questions over its policy of making agreements with Gul Bahadur and other insurgent commanders who threaten U.S. forces in Afghanistan but do not attack targets in Pakistan.

Bahadur agreed not to help his fellow militants during last year’s offensive in South Waziristan as part of an understanding reached with the army. In exchange, the army would not attack his territory to the north. Now it appears that this pact has backfired on the army, enabling militants whom Pakistan considers a threat to its security to regroup on Bahadur’s lands. …

“Under tribal customs and traditions, we are bound to host brothers from South Waziristan. We are like brothers and we support each other,” said a close aide to Bahadur. “We have no concern that our attitude toward the Pakistani Taliban in our area will invite an army offensive. Why should it? Neither we nor the Pakistani Taliban men have caused any problems for the army in North Waziristan.” …

The army began its operations in South Waziristan in October against the Pakistani Taliban, an umbrella grouping of militants that has claimed responsibility for many of the hundreds of suicide bombs to hit the country over the last two years.

It retook the area in about two months, but most of the insurgents fled rather than fight and none of the top commanders were captured or killed.

In Washington, a senior military official confirmed that fighters scattered from South Waziristan, including some to the north and others into Afghanistan. They included foreign fighters, he said on condition of anonymity because it involves intelligence. …

Bahadur, whose forces do not carry out attacks within Pakistan, is regarded as “good Taliban” by Pakistani security agencies. But he and other allied insurgents leaders in the north, among them Jalaluddin Haqqani, regularly dispatch men to fight U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan. …

Full story


FROM THE ARCHIVES: One Year Ago — April 22, 2009

Taliban Pushing Toward Capital in Pakistan // Attacked NATO terminal, Peshawar, Pakistan (© Mohammad Sajjad/AP)
Pakistani forces and NATO terminal attacked in region
crucial to U.S. (Photo credit: Mohammad Sajjad / AP)

Taliban Advance on Islamabad

One-year retrospective: One year ago today, I reported that Taliban militants had extended their grip in northwestern Pakistan, pushing out from the Swat Valley where the government had agreed to impose Islamic law and patrolling villages as close as 60 miles from the Pakistani capital of Islamabad.

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