The Torkham Crossing

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 2 months ago

In Taliban and al Qaeda Strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan we set out the intended strategy of attacking NATO supply lines through the Khyber pass.  This Al Jazeera video does a fairly good job of laying out the strategy and summarizing the importance of this plan to date.

This strategy is, according to an Asia Times report, in tatters, and according to a Globe and Mail report, meeting resistance.  The Asia Times report is lengthy but gives us a glimpse into the treachery involved  along the Khyner pass from a trader named Namdar, who apparently sold the Taliban out for $150 000 right around the time of the March 20 attack on 40 gasoline tankers.

Unlike in previous Taliban attacks in the area, local paramilitary forces chased the Taliban after this incident. The Taliban retaliated and five soldiers were killed, but then their ammunition ran out and they surrendered the two workers and tried to flee, but they were blocked.

The Taliban called in reinforcements, but so did the paramilitary troops, and a stalemate was reached. Eventually, the Taliban managed to capture a local political agent (representing the central government) and they used him as a hostage to allow their escape.

They retreated to their various safe houses, but to their horror, paramilitary troops were waiting for them and scores were arrested, and their arms caches seized. A number of Taliban did, however, manage to escape once word got out of what was happening.

The only person aware of the safe houses was Namdar, their supposed protector: they had been sold out.

Their worst suspicions were confirmed when Namdarbroke his cover and announced on a local radio station that Taliban commanders, including Ustad Yasir, should surrender or face a “massacre”, as happened when local tribes turned against Uzbek fighters in South Waziristan in January 2007.

Namdar said that he had the full weight of the security forces behind him, and he did not fear any suicide attack.

Al-Qaeda and the Taliban immediately called an emergency shura in North Waziristan to review the situation. Al-Qaeda’s investigations revealed that the CIA and Pakistani intelligence had got to Namdarand paid him $150,000 in local currency.

The immediate result is that Taliban operations in Khyber Agency have been cut off. This in itself is a major setback, as the attacks on supply lines had hit a raw NATO nerve.

In the broader context, Namdar’s betrayal vividly illustrates the dangers of traitors within the ranks of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. The fear is that the various peace deals being signed now between the Islamabad government and selected tribal leaders could lead to a whole new batch of betrayals.

Namdar is a pawn, and the real power according to the Globe and Mail report is a tribal leader who owns a local army of fighters.

An Islamist warlord whose fighters are overrunning Pakistan’s famous Khyber Pass area may now be the only force stopping the Taliban from swooping in to cut off this key supply route for NATO in neighbouring Afghanistan.

Mangal Bagh, who leads a group called Lashkar-i-Islam, said in an interview that he has rebuffed an offer from Pakistan’s Taliban to join them. Although he voiced his disdain for the United States, his independence is likely to be significant for NATO troops fighting in Afghanistan.

Khyber agency is a 2,500-square-kilometre district that is part of Pakistan’s tribal belt, and truckloads of food, equipment and fuel for NATO troops wind through it daily to the bustling border at Torkham. Last week, fighting between Mr. Bagh’s men and a pocket of resistance around the town of Jamrut closed the Pak-Afghan highway for several days.

Mr. Bagh’s stronghold, the market town of Bara, is a 30-minute drive from the city-centre of the provincial capital, Peshawar. An escort of his heavily armed followers is needed to reach his fortified compound in the surrounding countryside.

“I’m not the ruler of Khyber, I’m the servant,” said Mr. Bagh, who had an unexpectedly gentle manner, as he relaxed with his Kalashnikov-toting men, drinking tea. “My aim is to finish all social evils.”

There have been repeated entreaties to combine forces from the Pakistani Taliban, who run other parts of the country’s wild northwestern border terrain, known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. A traditional jirga, a meeting of elders, was held between Lashkar-i-Islam and the Taliban about 40 days ago.

“I told them that what I am doing is enough. It is the right direction. There is no need to join you,” he said.

“The Taliban consists of religious scholars. We are fighters for Islam – laypeople. We don’t have any religious figures in our organization.”

However, he said that the U.S. intervention in Afghanistan was “wrong” and that U.S. soldiers must leave.

Our assessment is that this is a mixed blessing.  First, Asia Times can give good information, but tends towards exaggeration, and it isn’t likely that the whole strategy of attacking NATO supply lines is in tatters.  Second, before beginning the dances of jubilation over the failure of the Taliban approach, remember that Mangal Bagh is no friend of the U.S.  It is likely that the battles in this area are just beginning.  The Taliban have not typically been inclined to give up after the first battle.

Continued CIA pressure must be brought to bear in this region, in addition to UAV strikes when known Taliban are observed.  This force must be balanced against the need to prevent targeting Mangal’s fighters, even if he is unfriendly to NATO efforts.  For now, at least, he must be considered a friend, even if a tenuous and potentially treacherous one at that.

Prior:

Taliban and al Qaeda Strategy in Pakistan and Afghanistan

The Khyber Pass




You are currently reading "The Torkham Crossing", entry #1061 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Featured,Pakistan,Taliban and was published April 27th, 2008 by Herschel Smith.

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