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Profile: Frontier Corps
Frontier Corps was a participant or observer in the following events:
Pakistan’s tribal region, shown in various colors, while the rest of Pakistan is in green. FATA stands for Federally Administered Tribal Areas, the bureaucratic name for the area. [Source: Public domain via Wikipedia]Thousands of al-Qaeda-linked militants have been regrouping in the Pakistan tribal region of South Waziristan (see Late May 2002 and June 2002). By late 2002, these forces begin regularly attacking US outposts, also known as firebases, just across the border in Afghanistan. In December 2002, the US is forced to abandon the Lawara firebase after phosphorus rockets fired on the base burn US Special Forces vehicles. US military officials begin to complain that the Pakistani government’s Frontier Corps is not only turning a blind eye to these attacks, but is actually helping al-Qaeda forces cross the border and providing covering fire for their attacks. US forces are not allowed to pursue al-Qaeda forces across the Pakistan border (see Early 2002 and After). In January 2003, US commander Lieutenant General Dan McNeill publicly speaks out about the situation despite orders from his superiors not to. He says, “US forces acknowledge the internationally recognized boundaries of Afghanistan, but may pursue attackers who attempted to escape into Pakistan to evade capture or retaliation.” Around the same time, the US media begins to report that the Pakistani government is allowing militants to attack US positions across the border (see December 2002-February 2003). Pakistan comes under increasing pressure to do something, but takes no action. Confident of their position, militants begin killing tribal elders who they suspect are not loyal to them, further cementing their control and causing many to flee. Some fleeing locals claim that the Pakistani ISI is frequently meeting with al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders there, such as Taliban leader Jalaluddin Haqqani, and apparently supporting them. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 440] The Pakistani army commander in the region, Lieutenant General Ali Jan Orakzai, is considered a close friend of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. It is believed he intensely hates the US and NATO, and has sympathy for the Taliban. He will later call them a “national liberation movement.” [Rashid, 2008, pp. 277, 384] The Pakistani army will finally launch its first limited attack against al-Qaeda in October 2003 (see October 2, 2003).
Tahir Yuldashev. [Source: Corbis Reuters]In mid-March 2004, Secretary of State Colin Powell visits Pakistan. He reportedly gives Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf an ultimatum: either Pakistan attacks the al-Qaeda safe haven in the South Waziristan tribal region, or the US will. On March 16, hundreds of Frontier Corps soldiers surround a compound in the village of Kalosha, a few miles from the capital of South Waziristan. Apparently, they are looking for Tahir Yuldashev, the leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), an al-Qaeda-linked militant group based in nearby Uzbekistan. But the poorly trained Frontier Corps local militia have walked into a trap, and are badly defeated by about 2,000 al-Qaeda, Taliban, and IMU militants who greatly outnumber them. Yuldashev escapes.
Escalation - Ali Jan Orakzai, the regional commander of the Pakistani army, immediately rushes in eight thousand regular troops in an effort to save the situation. For the next two weeks, heavy fighting rages in South Waziristan. Helicopter gunships, fighter bombers, and heavy artillery are brought in to help defeat the militants, but the militants have heavy weapons as well and command the heights in extremely difficult mountainous terrain. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 270-271]
Al-Zawahiri Supposedly Surrounded - On March 18, Musharraf boasts on CNN that a “high-value target” has been surrounded, and suggests that it could be al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri. He claims that 200 well-armed al-Qaeda fighters are protecting him. [CNN, 3/18/2004; FOX News, 3/18/2004] On March 19, Pakistani officials say that al-Zawahiri has escaped the South Waziristan village where he was supposedly surrounded. [Interactive Investor, 3/19/2004] In all likelihood, al-Zawahiri was never there, but was used as an excuse to justify the debacle.
Al-Qaeda Victorious - Heavy fighting continues for the next several weeks. Musharraf eventually orders local commanders to strike a deal with the militants to end the fighting. The fighting finally ends on April 24, when the Pakistani government signs an agreement with the militants, pardoning their leaders. The government claims that 46 of its soldiers were killed, while 63 militants were killed and another 166 were captured. But privately, army officers admit that their losses were close to 200 soldiers killed. US officials monitoring the fighting will later admit that the army attack was a disaster, resulting from poor planning and a near total lack of coordination. Pakistani journalist and regional expert Ahmed Rashid will later comment: “But there were deeper suspicions. The ISI had held meetings with the militants and possessed detailed information about the enemy’s numbers and armaments, but this intelligence did not seem to have been conveyed to the Frontier Corps. Western officers in [Afghanistan and Pakistan] wondered if the failed attack was due to a lack of coordination or was deliberate.” Orakzai, the army commander in charge of the offensive, reportedly intensely hates the US and has sympathy for the Taliban (see Late 2002-Late 2003). But there is no internal inquiry, even though many soldiers deserted or refused to fire on the militants. Nek Mohammed, a native local militant leader, emerges as a hero (see April 24-June 18, 2004). [PBS Frontline, 10/3/2006; Rashid, 2008, pp. 270-271]
Entity Tags: Pervez Musharraf, Pakistani Army, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Tahir Yuldashev, Taliban, George W. Bush, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Al-Qaeda, Ali Jan Orakzai, Nek Mohammed, Colin Powell, Frontier Corps, Ayman al-Zawahiri
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
Baitullah Mahsud. [Source: Associated Press]On August 30, 2007, Pakistani militants led by Baitullah Mahsud surround a convoy of more than 270 soldiers belonging to Pakistan’s Frontier Corps. The militants are vastly outnumbered, but get the soldiers to surrender without firing a shot. In the following days, dozens more soldiers surrender or even desert to Mahsud. This is a humiliating debacle for the Pakistani army and a reflection of low morale. The Washington Post comments: “The troops’ surrender has called into question the army’s commitment to fighting an unpopular war that requires Pakistanis to kill their countrymen. It has also exposed the army to ridicule.” [Washington Post, 10/3/2007] Mahsud demands the release of 30 jailed militants and the end of Pakistani military operations in South Waziristan, the tribal region where Mahsud is the de facto ruler. After weeks of slow negotiations, he orders the beheading of three of his hostages. On November 3, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf declares a state of emergency throughout Pakistan (see November 3-December 15, 2007). Musharraf claims that his emergency powers will give him a stronger hand to fight militants like Mahsud, but the next day he releases 28 jailed militants in return for the release of the nearly 300 soldiers still held. Eight of the released militants are would-be suicide bombers. For instance, one of them had just been sentenced to 24 years in prison after being caught carrying two suicide belts. The incident propels Mahsud into becoming the figurehead of Pakistan’s militant movement, and from this time on many violent incidents are blamed on him, although his forces are probably not linked to them all. Mahsud had strong ties to the Taliban and al-Qaeda. He fought with the Taliban in the 1990s and helped al-Qaeda leaders escape the battle of Tora Bora in late 2001. [Washington Post, 10/3/2007; Rashid, 2008, pp. 385-388; Newsweek, 1/7/2008]
The Washington Post reports, “Pakistan’s government is losing its war against emboldened insurgent forces, giving al-Qaeda and the Taliban more territory in which to operate and allowing the groups to plot increasingly ambitious attacks, according to Pakistani and Western security officials.” Since the government’s raid on the Red Mosque in July 2007 (see July 3-11, 2007 and July 11-Late July, 2007), militants have gone all out in trying to overthrow the government, but Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has been consumed by a struggle to stay in power (see October 6, 2007 and November 3-December 15, 2007) and has done little in return to fight them. Brig. Gen. Mehmood Shah, a top security official in the tribal regions until he retirement in 2005, says: “The federal government is busy with its problem of legitimacy. Getting Musharraf elected for another five years—that is keeping everything on hold.” Militants not only control much of the country’s mountainous tribal regions, but they are increasingly moving down the hills to threaten larger towns and cities. A Western military official based in Pakistan says the militants have “had a chance to regroup and reorganize. They’re well equipped. They’re clearly getting training from somewhere. And they’re using more and more advanced tactics.” But this official says that Pakistan’s military are “not trained for a counterinsurgency. It’s not their number one priority. It’s not even their number two priority.” This person adds, “The sad thing about it is that a lot of these militants are better off than the Frontier Corps,” referring to the Pakistani paramilitary force guarding the tribal region. The militants “have rockets. They have advanced weapons. And the Frontier Corps has sandals and a bolt-action rifle.” The Post notes that although the US has given about $10 billion to Pakistan since 9/11, “the aid does not seem to have won the United States many friends here. Nor has it successfully prepared the Pakistani army to battle insurgents.” [Washington Post, 10/3/2007]
Members of the Frontier Corps near Shakai, in the region of South Waziristan, in August 2004. [Source: Kamran Wazir / Reuters / Corbis]The British newspaper The Observer reports that the Frontier Corps, a Pakistani government paramilitary force operating in Pakistan’s tribal regions near the border with Afghanistan, sometimes join in attacks on US-led forces in Afghanistan. The article alleges there are “box loads” of after-action reports compiled after armed clashes near the border, detailing the Frontier Corps working with the Taliban and other allied militants. Some attacks are launched so close to Frontier Corps outposts that Pakistani cooperation with the Taliban is assumed. There has been a dramatic increase in cross-border incidents compared to the same time the year before. An anonymous US official says: “The United States and NATO have substantial information on this problem. It’s taking place at a variety of places along the border with the Frontier Corps giving direct and indirect assistance. I’m not saying it is everyone. There are some parts that have been quite helpful… but if you have seen the after-action reports of their involvement in attacks along the Afghan border you would appreciate the problem.” The US government continues to downplay such incidents, worried about its relationship with the Pakistani government. A NATO spokesman says: “The real concern is that the extremists in Pakistan are getting safe havens to rest, recuperate and retool in Pakistan and come across the border. The concerns have been conveyed to the Pakistan authorities.” [Observer, 6/22/2008]
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