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Cross-border militants strike back

Posted by The Agonist on February 23rd, 2010

From our partners at The Agonist

Syed Saleem Shahzad | Islamabad | Feb 24

Asia Times
As a lone suicide bomber approached a convoy of security personnel after walking through a crowded market he detonated the bomb strapped to his body. Eleven people were killed and more than 35 injured in the massive blast on Monday in the Nishat Chowk district of Mingora, the capital of Swat in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province (NWFP).

Gruesome scenes of bodies being recovered amid billowing black smoke, burning vehicles and shattered buildings are not new to Pakistan; similar – and much bigger – attacks occur regularly. What was significant about Monday’s attack was that it was the first in six months in the Swat area.

The return of violence to Swat is a direct result of the Taliban gaining control of the provinces of Kunar and Nuristan across the border in Afghanistan, sources in an al-Qaeda-led militant group tell Asia Times Online.

In a series of operations in the tribal areas that started last year, beginning in Swat and culminating in the offensive in North Waziristan, the Pakistani military rolled back the extensive advances make by the Pakistan Taliban and al-Qaeda. The militants were dispersed, with most disappearing into the wilds on both sides of the border.

Then, towards the end of last year, United States troops evacuated their main bases in Nuristan and border posts in Kunar and handed over responsibility for security to the Afghan National Army (ANA). In November, the Taliban struck a ceasefire deal with the ANA under which the Taliban agreed not to attack provincial capitals in return for the ANA not attacking Taliban bases in the two provinces. (See Taliban take over Afghan province Asia Times Online, October 29, 2009.)

This, say the militant sources, allowed militants from across the border to regroup, and Monday’s attack is the first of what the sources say will be many more in Swat, as well as other tribal areas. This includes the restive belt of Bajaur Agency, Mohmand Agency and Dir and Swat in NWFP. There has already been a revival of activity in Bajaur and Mohmand over the past few weeks.

The militant sources say that the fighters who have gathered in Kunar and Nuristan have split into several groups to fight in Afghanistan and in Pakistan on a rotational basis to make the optimum use of their human resources.

A senior militant linked with al-Qaeda told Asia Times Online by telephone that the new assault in Pakistan would start in earnest once the weather improved in the next few weeks, while the battle in Afghanistan would continue.

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