Pakistan villagers flee military offensive, harsh militant rule
For the tribespeople of North Waziristan, fleeing their homes amid a Pakistani military offensive was in many ways like escaping a torture cell.
Islamist militants had roamed through neighborhoods with impunity, villagers said. They collected taxes, controlled the streets and routinely detained and abused anyone they suspected of espionage, with no interference by Pakistani security forces stationed nearby.
“Virtually the entire government’s administrative system had collapsed,” said one man who fled to the town of Bannu. Like many displaced residents, he declined to give his name for fear of reprisals.
Since June 18, the Pakistani military has bombarded the North Waziristan tribal area in an operation that officials say has flushed out militants responsible for attacks on both sides of the Pakistani-Afghan border. It has also sent 1 million residents, most of them women and children, fleeing to other parts of Pakistan or to Afghanistan, overwhelming local authorities and international aid agencies.
Maj. Gen. Asim Bajwa, a Pakistani military spokesman, said Tuesday that more than 400 Pakistani and foreign militants had been killed and that soldiers had destroyed dozens of bomb-making factories and confiscated large quantities of explosive material from Miram Shah, the regional capital. Twenty-six soldiers have been killed, according to military officials, who have declined to specify how long the operation will last.
North Waziristan is in effect sealed off to outsiders, but many villagers believe that, as with previous operations, top militant commanders left the area before the bombings began. The offensive had been in the offing for several months as the Pakistani government’s attempts to engage the insurgents in peace talks collapsed, and even some military officials acknowledged that militants had time to flee.
“The fact of the matter is, the leadership at the moment is not present in the areas where we have carried out the operation. If they were, we would have apprehended them,” Maj. Gen. Zafarullah Khan, an army commander in the tribal region, told reporters last week at a briefing in a cantonment in Miram Shah.
Commanders said they had cleared militants out of Miram Shah, but many experts believe the most powerful insurgent leaders slipped across the border into Afghanistan, where they may be responsible for a recent increase in insurgent attacks coinciding with the country’s presidential election.
The Haqqani network, which has been behind some of the deadliest attacks against U.S. forces in Afghanistan, has been untouched by the Pakistani offensive, said C. Christine Fair, a Georgetown University professor and author of “Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War.”
The array of militant groups that found a haven in North Waziristan includes the Haqqanis, the Pakistani Taliban, Arab extremists loyal to Al Qaeda, Uighurs opposed to the Chinese government and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Many began pouring into the area after a 2006 army operation against militants that ended in a cease-fire.
Activists say that despite the truce, the militant groups quickly reorganized and were joined by a flood of fighters from Russia, Central Asia, Germany, China, Turkey and European countries, many of whom came to fight U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan.
“The nightmare started when the Taliban, along with Arabs, Uzbeks and other foreigners, poured into the area after the army conducted the 2006 operation,” said Gul Wazir, a political activist in Bannu, a town at the edge of North Waziristan.
Some tribesmen tell of how militants enjoyed free rein in the towns and villages, with the Pakistani security forces mainly confining themselves to a small garrison in Miram Shah. The militants started off friendly, cracking down on a gang of criminals in Miram Shah and winning residents’ sympathies. Many fighters married local women.
“We never thought that they would become monsters,” Wazir said.
Even in the relative safety of Bannu, where hundreds of thousands have taken shelter in recent weeks, many villagers were hesitant to discuss the extent to which militants had taken over the rugged Pakistani-Afghan border.
Some said that fighters with the Pakistani Taliban collected taxes from drivers for transporting goods to and from North Waziristan, while security forces did nothing to intervene. As part of their parallel government, the militants developed an extensive intelligence network and regularly arrested and executed people they believed were passing information to the U.S. or Pakistani governments, residents said.
“A big worry of the militants … was that local people would spy on their activities,” said one man who said he was detained for three months in 2010 on suspicion of spying for Americans in Afghanistan.
He said he was held in one of several small cells in a large compound somewhere in North Waziristan, his hands and feet bound with steel chains. He denied spying and was released after three months, but a friend was killed in militant custody, he said, his body later found on a road, riddled with bullet holes.
The task of rooting out spies largely belonged to the fearsome Khorasan Group, described by experts as the intelligence wing of the powerful Pakistani Taliban faction led by Hafiz Gul Bahadur. These well-trained fighters often went barefoot, their faces covered with black cloth, with a black band around their heads that read, “God is great,” residents said.
The Khorasan Group had its own torture cells and detention centers where an unknown number of civilians were killed. The group recorded confessional statements by those accused of spying. Beheaded bodies were found hanging from trees, bearing warnings not to bury them for three days, contravening Islamic custom.
A doctor who said he had treated fighters said the militants devised new techniques to terrorize residents. One morning he saw 29 human heads placed in a row outside the government hospital in Miram Shah, opposite a security base. Later, militants began kicking the heads, he said.
“I have never seen such a horrific scene in my life,” he said.
Counter Jihad Report:
INTEL DETECTS AL-QAEDA INTENTIONS TO SMUGGLE EXPLOSIVES ONTO U.S.-BOUND AIRLINER USING WESTERN RECRUITS
by EDWIN MORA, Sep. 14,2014:
A cell of seasoned al-Qaeda fighters from Afghanistan and Pakistan has joined forces with al-Qaeda’s Yemen affiliate to pilot innovative methods aimed at smuggling explosives onto U.S.-bound airliners, according to U.S. officials.
Citing unnamed U.S. officials and classified intelligence assessments, the Associated Press
revealed that the group’s brutal Yemen affiliate, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), has been working with an al-Qaeda offshoot from Afghanistan and Pakistan known as the Khorasan group.
A U.S. official said the al-Qaeda coalition is contriving ways to pack uncharged telephones and laptops with “hard-to-detect explosives” that can dodge airport security and detonate unimpeded.
“The fear is that the Khorasan militants will provide these sophisticated explosives to their Western recruits who could sneak them onto U.S.-bound flights,” said AP.
Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri reportedly sent the Khorasan extremists into Syria to enlist Americans and Europeans who possess passports that facilitate boarding planes en route to the U.S.
According to an anonymous U.S. official, in a direct response to information on the cooperation between the Khorasan group and AQAP, the U.S.Transportation Security Administration (TSA), in July, moved to prohibit
passengers from bringing uncharged devices onto U.S.-bound flights coming from Europe and the Middle East.
AQAP has already placed three bombs on U.S.-bound planes, but ultimately failed in bringing the airliners down.
The Khorasan cadre of fighters was recently described by the Los Angeles Times
as a ruthless wing of the Pakistani Taliban clique led by Hafiz Gul Bahadur charged with intelligence gathering.
In a July 15 article, the Los Angleles Times
provided a glimpse into the group’s vicious tactics, revealing how it has killed an undetermined number of civilians in their own torture chambers and detention centers.
The group “recorded confessional statements by those accused of spying. Beheaded bodies were found hanging from trees, bearing warnings not to bury them for three days, contravening Islamic custom.”
“A doctor who said he had treated fighters said the militants devised new techniques to terrorize residents,” also mentioned the LA Times, gruesomely adding:
One morning he saw 29 human heads placed in a row outside the government hospital in Miram Shah, opposite a security base. Later, militants began kicking the heads.
During his weekly address delivered on September 13, President Obama alleged that his administration has inflicted damage upon the core al-Qaeda leadership in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia.
“Thanks to our military and counterterrorism professionals, we took out Osama bin Laden, much of al Qaeda’s leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and leaders of al Qaeda affiliates in Yemen and Somalia,” said Obama
. “We’ve prevented terrorist attacks, saved American lives and made our homeland more secure.”
However, the AP article highlighted that the al-Qaeda movement still poses a threat to the West.
Furthermore in January, U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told a Senate panel
that the expansion of al-Qaeda’s ideology through its affiliates makes the terrorist group a “formidable threat.”
Of concern to intelligence officials are the score of Americans and Europeans who have gone joined the fight on the side of various extremist factions in Syria.
“Some of those Westerners’ identities are unknown and therefore they are less likely to draw the attention of intelligence officials when they purchase tickets and board a crowded jetliner heading for European and American cities,” warned the AP report.
The Khorasan group went into Syria to link up with the al-Qaeda branch there, the Nusra Front.
According to The Long War Journal
, Khorasan “refers to a region that encompasses large areas of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Iran. Jihadists consider the Khorasan to be the area where they will inflict the first defeat against their enemies in the Muslim version of Armageddon. The final battle is to take place in the Levant – Israel, Syria, and Lebanon.”