Confused warfare in Pakistan’s Tribal Areas

At least 10 were killed in a battle between two rival groups in the Mohmand district of Pakistan’s Mohmand Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) July 19. Hundreds of supporters of Baitullah Mehsud, leader of the Tehrik-e-Taliban—popularly known as the Pakistani Taliban—fought members of a breakaway faction of the group, local authorities said. A spokesman for Mehsud’s group claimed his fighters had killed 15 members of the rival group and captured 120 others, including Shah Khalid, their senior commander.

Earlier in the week, Mehsud’s men killed 17 Pakistani soldiers near the town of Zargari—dashing hopes for peace talks promised by the new government. Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, spokesman for the military, told the AFP the army had cleared Zargari and was now sweeping through surrounding areas, forcing many fighters to flee to the adjoining tribal district of Orakzai.

The new violence comes as Gen. David Petraeus, the US commander in Iraq, claimed that al-Qaeda may be diverting some of its fighters from Iraq to Pakistan. “There are unsubstantiated rumors and reflections that perhaps some foreign fighters originally intended for Iraq may have gone to the FATA,” he said. (AlJazeera, July 19)

Security forces in are also hunting down Taliban militants holding government hostages, following the collapse of negotiations aimed at securing their release. More than 20 government employees—including police officers, paramilitary fighters and even state bank officials—were seized by the militants in Hangu district two weeks ago. On July 18, they threatened to begin killing them unless the government released four of their comrades captured last week. Talks mediated by a jirga, or tribal council, broke down when the government refused to release the detained militants. Those being held are said to include the second in command to Baitullah Mehsud. (NYT, July 19; BBC, July 17)

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