TTP: Bajaur, South Waziristan battles

TTPAsif Haroon Raja

Once Bajaur came into the loop of terrorism in 2006, it became the exclusive domain of Maulvi Faqir Muhammad because of easy inflow of arms, equipment and funds from Kunar. This route of supply was also used for Swat via Dir. Srarogha within Mehsuds inhabited South Waziristan (SW) became the command centre of TTP under Baitullah Mehsud, where Qari Hussain trained small boys aged between 11 to 18 years as suicide bombers. Bajaur had stored tons of sophisticated weaponry, ammunition and explosives in secret tunnels and caves to last them for next ten years.

Heavy fighting ensued in Loisam area of Bajaur in August 2008 in which hundreds of foreign fighters poured in from Afghanistan. Situation was stabilized within four days. In response to a suicide attack on Marriot Hotel in Islamabad in September 2008 planned by Faqir’s men, an offensive was launched in Bajaur. By the time an operation was launched in Swat in May 2009, all areas under the control of militants in Bajaur were recaptured and over 1000 militants including five high profile al-Qaeda operatives were killed and RAW trained Afghan militants pushed out. Peace was restored after Faqir and his hardcore militants fled to Kunar.

On night of August 5, 2009, Baitullah Mehsud was killed by a drone in the house of in-laws of his recently married second wife in SW. It led to war of succession but ultimately Baitullah’s bodyguard and driver Hakeemullah Mehsud was appointed the Ameer of TTP on August 22. However, the cracks in TTP never got repaired. Notwithstanding inner tensions, the Mehsuds suspected Maulvi Nazir’s hand in the killing of their Ameer and attacked his camp in late August 2009 resulting in deaths of several men of Nazir.

Baitullah’s death and impending operation in SW impelled Hakeemullah to step up terrorist attacks. 2009 saw commencement of group attacks in Lahore. October 2009 was the heaviest in which GHQ was attacked on 10th, a military convoy was hit on 12th killing 41 soldiers, FIA building in Lahore attacked on 15th, ISI office in Peshawar on 16th, Islamic University Islamabad on 20th, a Brig was killed on 22nd, security post at Kamra attacked on 23rd, bomb blast in a restaurant in Peshawar on the same day, a Brig and his mother were shot at in Islamabad on 27th. Market in Shangla, police stations in Kohat and Peshawar and UN World Food Program offices in Islamabad were also targeted. These attacks impelled former Army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani to launch another military operation against the strongest base of TTP in SW. Operation Rah-e-Nijat was unleashed on 17th October 2009 and despite stiff resistance, the bastion of power was overpowered in a month time.   The operation owed its success to Maulvi Nazir and Gul Bahadur’s cooperation who agreed not to disturb Army’s bases of operations resting within their respective areas of influence. Mehsuds ignored Bahadur but not Nazir. An attempt was made on him by a suicide bomber in November 2011, in which he received injuries but survived. In order to get back to his hometown in Makeen and also to extend his influence into Wazir dominated SW, it is speculated that Hakeemullah planned to kill his rival Maulvi Nazir. He passed on the information to NDS about his location through his emissary, which enabled CIA to kill him with drone near Angoor Adda in SW on January 2, 2013.

With the dismantling of their main base in SW, the disarrayed TTP fighters sought refuge in other tribal agencies and in neighboring Nangarhar. Nucleus of TTP however shifted to Mirali in North Waziristan (NW) inhabited by second biggest tribe of Dawars after Othmanzai Wazir tribe. Some took refuge in area of Torikhel sub-tribe of Othmanzai tribe, reputed to be most ferocious fighters. For all practical purposes, TTP had lost its fighting potential after Operation Rah-e-Nijat. However, RAW and Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS) with the blessing of CIA reinvigorated TTP that had been created with a set agenda to pulverize Pak Army. Fugitives Fazlullah, Faqir, Khurasani and their men were activated in safe havens of Kunar and Nuristan. They were given houses, free rations and monthly pay as well arms and training facilities and launched into Dir, Mehmand, Bajaur and Chitral to heat up western border. Likewise, empty kitty of TTP was refilled and assigned new targets.

After a year break the TTP recommenced its militancy with emphasis on Orakzai Agency and Kurram Agency. Absconding Fazlullah, Faqir and Khurasani based in Kunar and Nuristan and patronized by Afghan NDS and RAW activated the western front by carrying out cross-border raids in Bajaur, Mehmand, Dir and Chitral in 2011. Khyber Agency was heated up by Mangal Bagh led Lashkar-e-Islam. In that year, staggering events took place. Those included arrest of CIA agent Raymond Davis in Lahore after he killed two persons, sneak helicopters raid by US Seals in Abbottabad on May 2 in which Osama bin Laden was killed, attack on Frontier Constabulary killing several dozen freshly passed out cadets, attack on Mehran Naval Base in which two PC-3 Orion aircraft were destroyed, attack on Salala military border post in Mehmand Agency by NATO Apaches killing 24 soldiers, closure of Shamsi airbase and blockade of NATO supply routes.

Over 50 militant groups have come under the wings of TTP and the entire lot is involved in anti-State activities. The only two Pashtun militant groups which stayed out of TTP and stuck to peace agreements with Army were Maulvi Nazir led group in SW and Hafiz Gul Bahadur led group in NW. In addition, a group led by Sirajuddin Haqqani based in NW is also friendly to the government and Army. On June 21, 2006 Sirajuddin had issued a decree that it was not Afghan Taliban policy to fight Pak Army. Sirajuddin carries head bounty of $5 million. Of late, CIA drones are hunting Haqqani network (HN) leaders. Two sons of chief of HN Jalaluddin have been killed by drones, one died in combat in Khost and one was murdered by unknown assailants in Islamabad. Another important leader Hameedullah was killed by a drone in Hangu last month.

TTP leader Hakeemullah Mehsud was killed by a drone in NW on November 1, 2013 at a time when he had agreed to hold talks with the government delegation. It is widely speculated that Hakeemullah’s deputy Latif Mehsud who had been arrested by the US Special Forces in Afghanistan in late October had provided information about Hakeemullah’s intended visit to NW. Hakeemullah’s death and selection of Fazlullah based in Kunar since July 2009 as new Ameer and his deputy Khalid Haqqani from Swabi, both hard liners and not in favor of peace has strengthened the group of hardliners in TTP and dimmed chances of peace talks. Khalid Haqqani has now been made Ameer of central Shura TTP.

The TTP since its creation has been governed by the Mehsuds since they consider it their right to lead the outfit. It is for the first time that a non-Mehsud and a non-tribal person with criminal background have been selected as the Ameer. Fazlullah is a wanted man who had converted Swat into his fiefdom where he had unleashed a reign of terror. He is also involved in cross border terrorism and believes in violence. It will therefore be very difficult for him to return to Swat or to NW. Although he has nominated Khalid Haqqani as the de facto chief of TTP to run its affairs, this arrangement is not likely to run smoothly for long. Already there is heart burning among the Mehsud tribe over Fazlullah’s selection and has created differences among TTP factions. In case he is changed, it would further factionalize TTP.

The writer is a retired Brig and a defence analyst.

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