Insurgents Switch Tactics in Waziristan

Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 3 Issue: 24

After two years of confronting a low level insurgency, North Waziristan is now suffering from lethal suicide attacks directed at government security forces. The use of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) is also becoming common, especially in South Waziristan. IED usage has caused government forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan to jointly evaluate this security threat and suggest appropriate counter-measures.

For instance, militants carried out two successive suicide attacks on security forces in Waziristan during the last week of May and the first week of June. On May 28, for instance, a suicide bomber rammed his explosive-laden car into a paramilitary checkpoint in Datakhel area in North Waziristan, killing two soldiers. The second attack on June 2 was more lethal, killing four security personnel and injuring a dozen more. According to a security official, “Two suicide bombers rammed their car into a military vehicle and destroyed it” (Dawn, June 3). The army convoy that was attacked was proceeding from Mirali in North Waziristan to its base camp in Bannu district just over the border in South Waziristan when soldiers in two military vehicles stopped for tea. “A car coming from the opposite direction smashed into the army vehicle and exploded,” the residents said. The car and the two military vehicles were badly damaged. The sources said that security forces collected two heads from the car’s debris, presumed to be those of the two suicide bombers (Dawn, June 3)

Pakistan’s Office of Inter-Services Public Relations, however, claimed that it was not a suicide attack, and argued that the attack was the result of two miscreants who threw hand grenades at security forces, killing four soldiers and wounding 10 others. “Had this been a suicide attack, it would have involved one bomber,” the ISPR official insisted. “Two suicide bombers involved in an attack does not make any sense” (Dawn, June 3). The ISPR is quick to try to gloss over suicide attacks since such admissions would acknowledge that the intensity of the insurgency in the tribal areas has increased significantly.

Afghan officials have been claiming the existence of at least two camps in Waziristan agencies that train suicide bombers. The exact locations of these alleged camps are unknown; furthermore, Pakistani security officials, as quoted in Dawn, contradicted these accusations in an interesting way, arguing that “all that is required for a suicide bomber is to be indoctrinated…You do not need training camps for that.” The same security official said that potential suicide bombers are given three months of rigorous indoctrination and not allowed contact with the outside world during this time. When their operation is ready, “they simply need to be trained [to push a button].”

To face this threat, the tripartite commission—comprised of senior military leaders from Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States—held a meeting in Rawalpindi, a twin city of Islamabad. Participants of the meeting deliberated at length about the common threats faced by allied forces in Afghanistan and by Pakistani security forces in the tribal areas, particularly in North and South Waziristan. Naw-i-Waqt reported on the meeting on June 8, saying that counter-measures for suicide attacks and deterring the threat of IEDs was one of the major agenda items.

Separately, the coalition’s Counter-Improvised Explosive Devices (C-IED) working group presented its report about a recently held symposium in the Afghan city of Bagram. The importance of this symposium was that for the first time Pakistani, Afghan and allied forces evaluated the counter-measures to retaliate to suicide bombings and IEDs. This presentation was followed by a military intelligence sharing group, which informed the session about steps taken to formulate a database of intelligence information, which would be helpful in identifying the future intensions of the enemy and their war tactics. Intelligence sharing among the Pakistani Army and allied forces in Afghanistan is one of the most effective tools of deterring the enemy’s design. The focus of all the briefings was on suicide attacks, which have become the most lethal weapon of militants. NATO troops are especially concerned about suicide attacks because NATO is gradually assuming the responsibilities in southern Afghanistan.

An increase in suicide attacks in Pakistan’s tribal belt was expected for the past year because prior to that the Afghan Taliban had successfully applied this method against Afghan and U.S.-led coalition forces. The Taliban in North Waziristan threatened that if government checkpoints were not removed, suicide attacks against security forces would continue. A spokesman of the local Taliban, Abdullah Farhad, while speaking to the BBC from an anonymous location, said that tribal women, searched at these checkpoints, were insulted in a manner that could no longer be accepted. Last year, Baitullah Mehsud, the Taliban leader in South Waziristan, also warned against these checkpoints and demanded their removal from South Waziristan (BBC, May 29).

Suicide bombing, a weapon that was imported from Iraq to Afghanistan through al-Qaeda, has now been imported to North Waziristan from southern Afghanistan. Suicide bombings and IEDs are new phenomena in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Some quarters believe that suicide attacks may be less frequent in the tribal areas because it is a weapon that has been exclusively used against “non-believer” armies. The style of the two recent suicide attacks in the tribal areas replicated the attacks in southern Afghanistan and Kabul where bombers slammed their cars into military convoys or vehicles. IEDs are mostly used in Bajaur Agency and these attacks are also thought to have been imported from Afghanistan. Security forces are examining the developments to find out whether the IEDs were being smuggled into Pakistan from Afghanistan, and whether the Pakistani tribesmen who are fighting on behalf of the local Taliban were training in Afghanistan and then crossing the border to Pakistan to launch operations against the Musharraf government.