Taliban regrouping in Pakistan areas thought secure

Insurgents expanding to additional territories

continued from page 1

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The victory announced by Pakistani authorities in Orakzai also came before several clashes between Taliban and security forces that claimed several lives. The next day after the June 1 declaration, scores of Taliban fighters attacked security forces, and the fight led to the deaths of six soldiers. Pakistani authorities reported that 30 Taliban fighters were killed.

“The military operation is not yet over in Orakzai. I think [the army] made the announcement of victory in haste,” said journalist Rahimullah Yousafzai.

In the Swat-Malakand region, where the Taliban had established until June 2009a parallel state infrastructure, which was ousted during a major military offensive, local officials report the situation is stable but Taliban fighters continued killing locals they consider their enemies. Swat-Malakand is part of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, formerly North West Frontier Province (NWFP).

On April 15, a suspected Taliban fighter fatally shot Alamgir Khan and Mukarram Khan, two members of a local defense committee in Swat, and critically injured a third official.

“The targeted killings of peace committee members is extremely worrying,” Mukhtar Yousafzai, head of the Swat Qaumi Jirga, the area’s unofficial local council, told The Times. “Although the military offensive has killed some militants, the peace thus arrived at is never a lasting one. The threats by Taliban are quite concerning, and people reckon this is the beginning of a new phase of religious militancy in the region.”

Visits by a reporter to Swat confirmed that the people remain terrified and apprehensive about a Taliban comeback.

“We have our fears that one day Taliban may return because their head, Maulana Fazlullah, is still alive and sending messages to the local people that he would come back with a vengeance, targeting those who supported security forces against Taliban,” said Riaz, a resident of Kabal, a town in Swat.

The head of Swat Taliban, Fazlullah reportedly was spotted recently in the Afghan province of Nooristan fighting U.S., NATO and Afghan forces along with his hundreds of militants.

Fazlullah is the son-in-law of Maulana Sufi Muhammad, a founder of Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM), a forerunner of the Pakistani Taliban.

Muhammad declared holy war against the United States after its forces ousted the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in late 2001 after the Sept. 11 attacks. He led about 10,000 militants from Swat-Malakand region to fight U.S. forces. He was released in 2008 by Pakistani authorities after several years of imprisonment in exchange for a deal that called on him to use his influence to moderate the Taliban. But he reneged on the promises and was arrested again. He currently is in a Peshawar jail.

The anti-Taliban offensive in Swat-Malakand that began in May 2009 displaced an estimated 2.5 million people, who fled to neighboring areas.

In the Mohmand tribal district of FATA, the Taliban has restarted staging major attacks on security forces and destroying schools. The attacks followed months when there were no significant attacks by the Taliban in the area.

On June 15, hundreds of Afghan- and Mohmand-based Pakistani Taliban attacked security forces and killed an unknown number of Frontier Corps‘ personnel. The bodies of six men were handed over to local tribal leaders by the Taliban but several people are still missing.

In September, the Pakistani military announced it had cleared some 80 percent of the Mohmand area of Taliban and foreign fighters, destroying command-and-control structures.

However, accounts from local residents contradicted the claims and noted the continued presence of large number of militants, particularly in one subdivision called Safi, according to sources in the region.

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