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26 February 2020

TTP shifts bases to Afghanistan to launch attacks in Pakistan, ' Possibly through Chitral'

PESHAWAR: Military officials believe there are around 1,500 Pakistani militants based in Afghanistan’s Kunar and Nuristan provinces bordering Pakistan and ready to launch cross-border attacks in Mohmand and Bajaur tribal agencies and the districts of Lower Dir, Upper Dir and possibly Chitral.

The Pakistan Army and Frontier Corps (FC) officials said they have taken steps to repulse any new attack by the militants from across the Pak-Afghan border. Requesting anonymity, they said there were reports that the militants wanted to open a new front by launching an attack in Chitral from their bases in Afghanistan. They said an FC Wing had been sent to Chitral to reinforce the troops and thwart any attack in the border area of Arandu, which is sited on the banks of river Chitral and located across Barikot village in Afghanistan’s Kunar province.

The security forces in Upper and Lower Dir had also been augmented. They would primarily serve as a back-up force to the Dir Police and Dir Levies that are still manning some of the joint posts near the border with Afghanistan even though they suffered heavy losses in the two cross-border assaults by the Pakistani militants. The FC personnel have now been deployed at these joint security posts to add to their muscle-power. 

The Afghanistan-based militants, affiliated to the outlawed Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and hailing mostly from Malakand division and Mohmand and Bajaur tribal regions, attacked the Kharki border post manned by Dir Levies and Police in Lower Dir district on April 21 and according to the official sources killed 16 cops and Levies personnel. In the second cross-border attack on a joint post of Dir Police and Levies on June 1 in Shaltalo village in Upper Dir, 45 policemen and Levies personnel were killed. Video footage that subsequently emerged showed the militants ruthlessly executing the captured men from point-blank range. 

The cross-border attacks by the TTP militants in Bajaur and Mohmand agencies were thwarted with the help of local pro-government lashkar and the death toll was minimal. Pakistan has asked the Afghan government and Nato forces based in Afghanistan to stop the attacks. Pakistani officials are now publicly claiming that the TTP militants, who fled to Afghanistan after being evicted from their strongholds in Swat and rest of Malakand division and Bajaur and Mohmand agencies as a result of military operations, were getting support from the Afghan authorities. 

Pakistan is also pushing the Afghan government and Nato authorities to set up more border posts in Afghanistan to stop infiltration of fighters into Pakistani territory. The Pakistan Army spokesman Maj Gen Athar Abbas told the media on Thursday that the issue was discussed in a recent meeting of the joint military commission of Afghanistan, Pakistan and the US in Peshawar and proposals for better border controls were put forward. He pointed out that Pakistan had set up more than 900 border posts on its territory in the tribal areas and elsewhere on the Durand Line, but there were around 100 such posts on the Afghan side. 

FC officials estimated that 600-700 Pakistani militants had set up bases in Afghanistan facing Mohmand Agency, another 400-500 were based across the border from Bajaur Agency and 300 were on the Afghan side threatening the two Dir districts. The total is around 1,500 and all of them were based in Kunar and Nuristan, where the US-led coalition forces abandoned remote outposts after suffering heavy casualties and where the Afghan government has little physical presence. 

Intelligence sources reported a recent meeting of Pakistani militants presided over by the Swat Taliban leader Maulana Fazlullah. The sources said TTP Bajaur commander Maulana Faqir Mohammad, the organisation’s Mohmand Agency head Abdul Wali alias Omar Khalid, and others attended the meeting and decided to make forays into Chitral and attempt more attacks in Bajaur and Mohmand agencies and Upper and Lower Dir. The TTP hasn’t said anything about any such meeting, though the Swat Taliban spokesman Omar Hasan Ahrabi had in the past claimed responsibility for the cross-border attacks by their militants in Lower Dir and Upper Dir. He had also conceded that some “Afghan friends” had joined the TTP fighters in organising these attacks from bases in Afghanistan. (The News International)