Pakistan attack followed Taliban withdrawal scam

Independent:

Backed by fighter jets and helicopter gunships, Pakistani troops dramatically expanded a military offensive against Taliban hideouts yesterday after fresh evidence emerged of the militants' determination to extend their reach beyond the Swat valley and towards the capital.

Army chiefs said the operation in Buner, which followed swiftly on the heels of a military bombardment of Lower Dir, was expected to last a week. The aim was to "eliminate and expel" an estimated 500 militants scattered across the strategic valley, which lies just 70 miles north of Islamabad, officials said.

The government of the President Asif Ali Zardari struck a controversial deal in February with the Swat militants, whereby he agreed to impose Sharia law in a vain bid to get the Taliban to lay down their weapons. The accord sparked concern in Washington and London and last week the militants appear to rip it up in any case. They rampaged beyond Swat and into Buner, kidnapping and killing policemen, seizing petrol stations and marble factories and terrorising the local population, before claiming to retreat.

Yesterday's military offensive was triggered by phone intercepts that allegedly revealed how the Taliban had merely staged a withdrawal from Buner. Maj-Gen Athar Abbas, the chief spokesman for the Pakistani military, said that the Taliban had in fact stayed put, continuing to recruit locals for their training camps. "Only a symbolic withdrawal was made," he told reporters at a press conference in the garrison town of Rawalpindi. "Instead [the militants] kept increasing their strength and continued with their activities. As per the latest reports, 450 to 500 militants are occupying Buner. The overall objective is to eliminate or expel [them]."

Military officials then played what they said were phone taps between various Taliban commanders who were leading militants in Buner and the group's chief Maulana Fazlullah, who is believed to be hiding in the mountains of Swat. The conversations were in Pashto and a transcript in Urdu was provided to reporters. The authenticity of the transcripts could not be independently verified.

In one conversation, a commander described as "Fateh", the codename for the Taliban commander Maulvi Khalil, is overheard "vowing to do something that they'll remember". The militants do not give specific details of their plans, preferring to signal their intent with half-finished sentences. More controversially, the transcripts imply that Sufi Mohammed – the frail hardline cleric the government has tasked with brokering the truce with the Taliban – was complicit in the Taliban's stunt of pretending to withdraw from the region.

Mufti Aftab, a Taliban commander, quotes Sufi Mohammed insisting that some Taliban fighters should be seen leaving the valley for the sake of "the media" without displaying "their weapons openly". "These Karakar comrades will be pulled back so that the media can see them [leave], because the commissioner is repeatedly saying we need to show the media something," Mr Aftab says, according to the transcript.

...

There is more including excerpts from transcripts of the intercepted calls. It is a good thing Pakistan does not follow the Democrats on the intercepts of enemy conversations or they would not have discovered the plot. More accurately, they would not have confirmed the plot that was suspected because all the Taliban did not leave.

The Taliban continue to lie about their plans according to other reports. The real test for Pakistan will be to sustain their attacks over a longer period of time.

The Times has more specifics on the ground operations in Buner.

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