Tribes Outgunned by Taliban

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 11 months ago

It’s like a sickness, really, this continual reversion to magical solutions to hard problems.  A pinch of this ingredient, a smidgen of that seasoning, and a secret incantation that very few people know – and the Gnostic knowledge of the “experts” can solve the problems for us.  Only in never works that way in any discipline or area of life.

Many of the “lawmakers,” certainly many pundits, and even some military men who should know better, see the Anbar campaign this way.  Forgetting the more than 1000 Marines who died and many thousands who were wounded and are even now disabled, ignoring the hard core kinetic engagements, and disrespecting the sweat and tears of the men and their families who contributed to the campaign, they purvey a narrative that has the tribes being the key to the campaign in Anbar.  True enough without context, the question is “why would someone ignore the context?”

The precondition for the tribal awakening was fire fights with a ferocity that convinced the tribes that battle against the U.S. was futile, security for the population, an al Qaeda reeling from Marine Corps operations against it, a 1/1 AD tank parked in the front yard of Sheikh Abdul Sattar Abu Risha’s home to ensure his family’s safety, many hundreds of thousands of knock-and-talks, intelligence gathering, arrests, detentions, fingerprints, retinal scans, and so on the long, complicated list goes.  And this hints at the complexity of Ramadi and the surrounding area.  Fallujah in 2007 was different, with tribal Sheikhs being relatively unimportant and Marine operations taking a different approach (as they did in Haditha with sand berms and isolation from insurgents from Syria).

So whither the tribes in Pakistan’s FATA and NWFP?  Well, Pakistan wants them to do it alone.  In fact, they want to do it alone.   But here is an example of what happens (two weeks ago) when the tribes take on the Taliban alone.

A suicide bomber has killed at least 10 people and wounded 30 others at a tribal council in Pakistan’s northwestern Orakzai region.

The attack happened a day after a force of pro-government tribesmen destroyed two militant hideouts in Orakzai.

Qeemat Khan Orakzai, a member of the council, told the Reuters news agency: “We were busy in raising a lashkar (a tribal militia) to evict Taliban from the region when this attack took place.”

He said that 15 people had been killed although other reports put the death toll at 10.

Orakzai has been the most peaceful of Pakistan’s seven semi-autonomous tribal regions. Unlike most of the others, it does not border Afghanistan.

Mohammed Luqman, a local government official, said: “A bomber struck at a meeting of a tribal lashkar killing at least 15 people and wounding dozens more.

“They were gathered to create a tribal force against the militants. We have shifted the injured to hospitals.”

The members of the Alizai tribe had met in the town of Ghaljo in the mountainous region.

A security official told the AFP news agency: “The tribesmen blew up two hideouts of the militants a day earlier and it is possible this attack was in revenge for their actions.”

The bombing also came a day after Taliban militants abducted and beheaded four tribal elders in the insurgency-hit Bajaur region who had attended another pro-government meeting, officials said.

There seems to be an understanding by Pakistani officials that the tribes are outgunned.

The tribal militias, known as lashkars, have quickly become a crucial tool of Pakistan’s strategy in the tribal belt, where the army has been fighting the Taliban for more than two months in what army generals acknowledge is a tougher and more protracted slog than they had anticipated. And, indeed, the lashkars’ early efforts have been far from promising.

As the strength of the militants in the tribal areas grows, and as the war across the border in Afghanistan worsens, the Pakistanis are casting about for new tactics. The emergence of the lashkars is a sign of the tribesmen’s rising frustration with the ruthlessness of the Taliban, but also of their traditional desire to run their own affairs and keep the Pakistani Army at bay, Pakistani officers and law enforcement officials say.

Some in Washington have pointed to the emergence of the lashkars as a hopeful parallel to the largely successful Sunni Awakening movement in Iraq, which drew on tribes’ frustration with militant jihadis to build an alliance with U.S. troops that helped lessen violence in Iraq. But there are significant differences, a senior U.S. government official acknowledged. In Anbar Province, he said, the Iraqi tribes “woke up to millions of dollars in government assistance, and the support of the 3rd Infantry Division.”

But the support by the Pakistani Army and the civilian government for the tribal militias has been “episodic” and so far “unsustained,” the official said. In addition, tribal structures in Pakistan have been weakened in recent years by the Taliban, unlike the situation in Iraq.

The tribesmen, armed with antiquated weaponry from the 1980s Afghan war, are facing better equipped, highly motivated Taliban fighters who have intimidated and crushed some of the militia.

In the last two months, the Taliban have burned the homes of tribal leaders and assassinated others who have dared to participate in the resistance. They have pulled tribesmen suspected of backing the militia out of buses and cars and used suicide bombers against them as they did in Orakzai, the place where the wounded in the Peshawar hospital were attacked.

But in spite of this understanding, the Pakistani parliament has promised to stand down its military operations against the Taliban.  Time is running short to save the tribes, and indeed, to save Pakistan itself.


You are currently reading "Tribes Outgunned by Taliban", entry #1408 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Pakistan,Tehrik-i-Taliban and was published October 24th, 2008 by Herschel Smith.

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