Limited Goals, Limited Gains: The Pakistan Army's Operation in Kurram

September 6, 2011

Operation Koh-e-Sufaid in Kurram agency, Pakistan. (Dunya News video)

 

INTRODUCTION

On July 4, 2011, the Pakistani military launched its latest offensive against Taliban militants in northwest Pakistan in Kurram, an agency within the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Dubbed Operation Koh-e-Sufaid (White Mountain), the offensive targeted militants in central and lower Kurram with the principal objective of securing and reopening the Thall-Parachinar road, a major thoroughfare through Kurram that had come under repeated attack by Sunni militants, the blocking of which had left Kurram’s Shia population effectively under siege for the last several years.

Pakistani military commanders declared on August 18 that the operation had been successfully completed and the principal objectives attained. While that may be the case, it must be noted that the military operation was limited in its scope, duration and objectives. The area in which operations took place, the size and makeup of the forces involved, the militant organizations targeted, the tactics implemented, and the statements of senior officers and commanders on the ground all attest to the operation’s inherently limited nature. The effective area of operations was no larger than 80 square kilometers and excluded key parts of Kurram agency that have been plagued by militant violence in the past. Only 4,000 troops, supported by heavy artillery, armor units and airpower, participated in the operation.[1] The military expected the operation to last less than two months and, from the very beginning, stated that its primary objective was to secure and open the Thall-Parachinar road—not to take on the variety of militant groups that hold sway in the region.[2] Indeed, the military almost exclusively targeted one militant group, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), to the exclusion of others that are known to have a presence in the area.

Furthermore, although the completion of the operation may bring some respite to Kurram’s population, it may also have negative externalities for long-term stability for Pakistan and for operations against the Taliban in Afghanistan if its gains are not followed up on. This primer will discuss and analyze the forces used in the operation, the groups targeted, the form the operation took, the mass displacement of Kurram residents, and the operation’s implications for the war in Afghanistan and for the larger fight against militancy in Pakistan.

 Map of Kurram agency (click to enlarge)

 

THE BUILDUP TO HOSTILITIES

Kurram agency has suffered a world of misfortune at the hands of militants since 2007. Located between the FATA’s North Waziristan and Khyber agencies, the agency has a “parrot’s beak” shape that protrudes deep into Afghanistan, giving it a strategic importance that has been taken advantage of by guerrilla fighters for decades.[3] The Thall-Parachinar road running through the length of the Kurram river valley provides the shortest transit route between any point in Pakistan and Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul. During the Soviet-Afghan war of the 1980s, Kurram served as a key safe haven for, and launching pad for attacks by, the anti-Soviet mujahideen fighters.[4]

Kurram is also home to a significant Shia population: of the agency’s 500,000 inhabitants, around 40 percent are Shia, mostly concentrated in upper Kurram.[5] While Shia tribes there have periodically clashed with Sunni tribes from Sunni-dominated central and lower Kurram, conflicts were usually limited in intensity and short-lived.[6] Since 2007, however, the amplification of the anti-state Taliban insurgency inside Pakistan, and an influx of Taliban militants and anti-Shia militant groups into the region, impregnated ongoing Sunni-Shia strife with a virulence that begat a state of civil war between Shia tribesmen and militant-backed Sunni tribesmen in much of the agency.[7] The militant problem was exacerbated when TTP militants, fleeing Pakistani military operations in their traditional safe havens in Swat and South Waziristan, joined their affiliates based in Kurram and neighboring Orakzai agencies.[8] Sunni militants blocked the Thall-Parachinar road, the only significant artery allowing Shias in upper Kurram to reach the rest of the country, essentially besieging the Shias. Shia tribesmen were frequently forced to undertake long, arduous and perilous journeys into and through Afghanistan in order to reach other parts of Pakistan.[9] Previous attempts at peace deals between the Sunnis and Shias failed to hold, and limited attempts by the Pakistani military to target militants in the agency remained ineffective in lifting the state of siege for any appreciable amount of time.[10]

In February 2011, however, a new peace deal was signed between Sunni and Shia tribesmen. This latest treaty held particular promise because it had been mediated by the al Qaeda-affiliated and Afghanistan-focused Haqqani Network and promised to bring on board spoiler groups like the TTP.[11] Ever since the intensification of the U.S. drone campaign in North Waziristan and Special Operations Forces activity in traditional areas of Haqqani dominance in neighboring Afghanistan, the Haqqani Network had been searching for a new safe haven inside Pakistan and unobstructed transit routes into Afghanistan and, in particular, to Kabul. Kurram made eminent strategic sense. While Shia tribesmen had refused access to the Haqqanis for several years, by 2011, conditions had changed: Worn down by constant fighting, the siege of the Thall-Parachinar road, and the perception that the Pakistani government was not particularly serious in solving the problem, the Shias acquiesced to a Haqqani-brokered deal that gave the network access to and transit through Shia areas into Afghanistan in exchange for peace with Sunni tribesmen and a guarantee that the Thall-Parachinar road would be opened to unimpeded traffic.[12]

The deal held for over a month until, on March 25, TTP militants ambushed a Shia convoy near Baggan, killing 13 people and taking hostage as many as 45 more.[13] Continued attacks, and a failure to mediate for the hostages’ release or the prevention of future attacks brought the deal into abeyance. Fazal Saeed, a local TTP commander in Kurram agency loyal to TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud, likely carried out the attack.[14] While the attack contradicted Saeed’s previous promises to personally observe and enforce the peace treaty, he, like Hakimullah, is strongly anti-Shia and likely had the backing of the TTP leadership.[15] Prior to his ascension to the TTP leadership, Hakimullah cut his teeth in the organization by demonstrating his brutality against Kurram’s Shias during his time as the TTP’s main commander in Kurram. The TTP has frequently played the role of a spoiler group in the agency’s peace negotiations.

The sullying of the deal played to the disadvantage of both the Pakistani state and the Haqqani Network, to mention nothing of the beleaguered Shias. The government was once again assailed with accusations of indifference to the plight of the Shias and of failing to exercise control over its territory. The Haqqanis saw their hard-won agreement with the Shias slowly unraveling. Increasingly severe urgings by the operational head of the Haqqani Network, Sirajuddin Haqqani, to Hakimullah to desist from attacking the Shias failed to have an effect and exacerbated what appeared to be a growing rift between the TTP and Haqqani Network.[16] By May, the Pakistani government had resolved to launch a military operation into Kurram to open the road and to flush out militants not adhering to the peace deal.[17] Negotiations between Fazal Saeed’s group and the Haqqani Network, possibly involving the Pakistani government, were almost certainly underway; on June 27, days before the military was to swing into action, Saeed announced his defection from the TTP and the formation of his own group, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Islami Pakistan (TTIP).[18] He promised to adhere to the February 2011 peace deal and foreswore attacks on the Pakistani state.[19]

Saeed is closely linked to the Haqqani Network, and his disassociation from the TTP may have been an effort to emphasize the distinction between the two groups before the operation.[20] In his announcement, Saeed claimed that he disagreed with the TTP’s use of “suicide attacks against mosques, markets and other civilian targets” and preferred a focus on combating the U.S. and NATO presence in Afghanistan—an stance more in line with the Haqqanis than the TTP.[21] Saeed even recently began referring to himself as Fazal Saeed “Haqqani,” a practice common among graduates of the infamous Dar-ul-Uloom Haqqania madrassa in Akora Khattak.[22] Moreover, in praising the truce, Saeed, a native of Kurram, was aligning himself with the Haqqani Network and the Pakistani government, both of whom value stability in the agency.[23]

His defection also brought the TTIP into line with several other militant groups in the FATA, such as those of Maulvi Nazir in South Waziristan and Hafiz Gul Bahadur in North Waziristan, both of which cut deals with the Pakistani military prior to the launch of a major operation against the TTP in South Waziristan in 2009.[24] Such groups are allowed to exercise influence in their own areas and launch attacks on NATO forces in Afghanistan unmolested by the army so long as they do not participate in attacks against the state.

On July 4, Pakistani troops advanced against and engaged TTP militants in the start of Operation Koh-e-Sufaid.

 

COMBATANTS

BLUE FORCES: About 4,000 troops were involved in the prosecution of the operation in Kurram.[25]  This number is slightly smaller than that of the force used in the offensive to clear neighboring Orakzai agency in 2010. The Orakzai agency operation, headed by the paramilitary Frontier Corps (FC), was itself an economy of force operation to begin with.

The forces involved include battalions cannibalized from two to three army brigades in the region.[26] While the battalions came from different parent brigades, they operated as part of XI Corps (Peshawar) under a unified command for the purposes of the operation.[27] So far, infantry battalions from the Frontier Force regiment, the Northern Light Infantry, the Punjab Regiment and the Sindh Regiment are all known to have been involved in various aspects of the operation.[28] The army units are supported by several wings of the FC, including the Thall Scouts and Kurram Militia, which have their headquarters in the region, as well as reinforcements brought in from Khyber Rifles, Chitral Scouts and Dir Scouts.[29] The infantry forces are supported by heavy artillery batteries, armor units, Cobra gunship helicopters, Mi-17 heavy-lift helicopters, and, reportedly, close air support from Pakistan Air Force (PAF) jets when required.[30] 

Later in the operation, local tribal militias known as lashkars, primarily from the Masuzai tribe of central Kurram, also participated in the fight against the TTP. These lashkars battled militants chiefly in the Masuzai and Neka Ziarat areas, although they operated largely independent of the military.

RED FORCES: A number of militant groups operate in Kurram Agency. In addition to the aforementioned TTP, TTIP, and Haqqani Network, other groups, such as Sipah-e-Sahab Pakistan (SSP), Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM), are also present in the region.[31] The SSP, LeJ and JeM, all Sunni militant groups, have been involved in anti-Shia violence in Kurram throughout the past several years.[32]

The military operation, however, primarily targeted the TTP with the intention of securing the Parachinar-Thall road.[33] The TTP and Sunni militants affiliated with the TTP have been the biggest violators of the Haqqani Network-facilitated Sunni-Shia truce. Moreover, unlike the Haqqani Network, the TTP opposes and carries out attacks against the Pakistani state, making them a far less complicated target for the Pakistani government to engage.[34]

According to “official estimates” by government forces, there were only a limited number of enemy forces present in the area. Only 600 militants were believed to be present at the start of the operation, including 250 fighters local to Kurram and “dozens” of foreign fighters including Arabs, Uzbeks, Chechens and others, some of whom were reportedly disguising themselves in army and FC uniforms.[35] The main TTP factions in Kurram are those under the command of Maulvi Noor Jamal, also known as Mullah Toofan, and Tariq Afridi, both senior commanders in the TTP.[36] A new commander reportedly appointed by the TTP to replace Fazal Saeed, Maulana Zahir, is also likely to have commanded enemy forces in the agency.[37] Both Toofan and Afridi moved their operations to Kurram and some parts of upper Orakzai after being squeezed out of their traditional strongholds in Darra Adam Khel and other areas of neighboring Orakzai.[38]

Fazal Saeed’s break from the TTP at the eleventh hour weakened the enemy fighting force. It not only allowed the Pakistani military to narrow its operational goals but also robbed the TTP of close to 800 additional fighters that would have faced off against the army.[39] Previous operations in the FATA have usually faced much greater concentrations of enemy strength. Even in the limited operation in Orakzai in 2010, between 2,000 and 2,500 enemy fighters were reported killed by the end of hostilities, far more than the military believed it would face in Kurram at the start of Operation Koh-e-Sufiad.[40]

 

THE OFFENSIVE

Central and lower Kurram agency consist of two major valleys, both running northwest to southeast, linking up near the town of Sadda before running jointly on to Parachinar in upper Kurram. The western branch of the valley is more heavily populated and hosts the central and lower Kurram portions of the Thall-Parachinar road. The offensive appears to be limited mostly to the eastern branch of the valley between Sadda in the northwest and Tora Warai in the southeast. According to Pakistani military sources, this eastern branch has been the center of TTP activity and housed the main TTP supply depots and command and control centers.[41]

Maps showing the main valleys in Kurram and terrain inside the area of operations (click to enlarge)
 

The operation officially began on July 4, although PAF strike aircraft had starting bombing TTP positions in the valley on June 24.[42] According to Brigadier Basharat Ahmed, the sector commander for forces in the southwest and the officer in overall command of the operation, the offensive was launched from five separate directions.[43] It appears, however, that most of the kinetic activity took place over two main axes of advance: the first heading southeast from Sadda through the Ali Sherzai tribal area of the valley, and the second moving northwest up the valley from Tora Warai in Hangu district with the intention of linking up with the opposing pincer.

The operation commenced with infantry battalions from the Sindh regiment (SR) and the Northern Light Infantry (NLI), a specialized mountain warfare unit, advancing from Sadda in central Kurram eastwards into the Ali Sherzai tribal area and the entrance to main valley system.[44] The Ali Sherzai area in particular served as a haven for a number of TTP militants. Geographically, it not only allowed them to easily cross back and forth between havens in Orakzai and Khyber, but also gave them easy access into central Kurram from where they were able to threaten the Thall-Parachinar road.

Troops advanced under the cover of gunship helicopters and artillery batteries based in Sadda.[45] Units reported little enemy resistance and were able to quickly take several TTP command centers, including Gawakai, Murghan and Manatu.[46] Soldiers moved into and cleared a number of government buildings, schools and healthcare facilities that militants had used for accommodation, ammunition storage, training facilities and private prisons.[47] According to locals, some of the towns taken in central Kurram had not seen the presence of Pakistani troops for over four years.[48] Manatu, the main Taliban command and control hub in the valley, was the only town where any notable Taliban resistance was encountered. On July 6, as many as 40 TTP militants died in fierce clashes that also left two soldiers injured.[49] After these early gains, the SR and NLI battalions moved eastwards in an attempt to link up with forces advancing from Tora Warai. By July 13, the pincer had reached Mandan.[50] By July 24, forces were “days” away from linking up with units that had advanced from the southeast and were now in Dumbakai and Sper Kot.[51]

The units operating in the south and southeast include the 42 FF (42nd Battalion, Frontier Force Regiment), the 42 PR (42nd Battalion, Punjab Regiment), and the FC’s Kurram Militia and Thall Scouts. These units were supported by tanks and heavy artillery including a 155mm battery part of the 72nd MED, an artillery unit based near Tora Warai.[52] Troops in this sector advanced from the direction of Tora Warai westwards up the valley, battling Taliban resistance along the way. Forces advanced up to and took TTP locations in Khalwat, Pungai, Kurt and Dumbakai, a major TTP command center, by July 6.[53] 42 PR, operating further south and west of the main assault force, captured a major TTP stronghold in Tanna.[54] 42 FF made a push to secure the Sper Kot ridge on the valley’s northern wall, near the border with upper Orakzai. According to the colonel in command of the force, securing the ridge would allow the military to sever or severely degrade the Taliban’s ability to traverse south from Orakzai through Kurram towards the Thall-Parachinar road and then south to North Waziristan.[55] By securing the sector, the colonel argued, the Taliban would be forced to rely on moving on foot and using small trails as opposed to being able to use vehicles to move rapidly and in large numbers.[56] One of the drawbacks to this approach is that the Pakistani military, in order to secure such heights, tends to establish semi-permanent outposts at the top of strategic features. These outposts are static and require frequent resupply. This task is made more difficult by the fact that transport helicopters have come under Taliban attack and the resupply of these outposts require effort-intensive means, such as ground forces moving up the mountain.[57]

Map showing development of the operation and movement of military forces (click to enlarge)
 

In a positive development for the operation, about two weeks into the offensive, reports emerged of local lashkars participating in the fight against militants.[58] Tribesmen, primarily from the Masuzai tribe, formed a lashkar that began operating primarily in the Masuzai and Neka Ziarat areas and was on several occasions involved in large clashes with militants. The involvement of lashkars in the fight against the Taliban is one of the most important steps in inoculating an area to a Taliban re-infiltration. That the Masuzai, a Sunni tribe, chose to take up arms against the Taliban is significant, as the Taliban have previously co-opted or coerced Kurram’s Sunni tribes into attacking Shias.[59]

Pakistani military movement from the southeast was much slower and more calculated than the rapid advance seen from the northwest.[60] Few major clashes occurred over the course of the operation.[61] Most engagements appear to have taken place over long distances with troops, travelling in convoys, coming under frequent sniper and rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) attack. The army tended to return fire at enemy combatants over long ranges using artillery and armor.[62] TTP militants used harassing tactics, using fighters at distances of up to 500 meters from each other taking potshots at advancing forces before diving back into hideouts in caves. According to one soldier, troops were under orders not to pursue militants fleeing into mountain caves as they had previously faced difficulties and suffered casualties trying to clear them.[63]

For their part, the Taliban do not appear to have presented battle in any serious manner during the campaign. Many fighters simply harassed oncoming troops with long-range fire before melting away. According to locals, most of the militants had fled the area well before the operation had started, moving to safe havens in neighboring Orakzai or Khyber agencies.[64] Taliban resistance in Kurram appeared to be a rearguard action, at best. Enemy forces have likely learnt from the experiences of previous operations such as those in Swat and South Waziristan that concerted resistance to conventional assaults can only be upheld for a limited period and at very high cost. The ability to steal away to safe havens in neighboring agencies also makes resistance an unattractive option. Only around 200 militants were killed by the end of the campaign, with a fifth of those casualties occurring in a single battle in Manatu.[65]

By August 18, Pakistani officials declared the operation complete, much earlier than the end-of-the-month termination date initially floated by Corps Commander Peshawar Lt. Gen. Asif Yasin Malik.[66] The army declared victory and stated that it had succeeded in eliminating enemy positions in the agency and that it had secured the Thall-Parachinar road. Interestingly, while the ultimate objective of the operation was, ostensibly, to open the Thall-Parachinar road, no operations took place in or around the areas lining much of the road. While forces had been operating near Sadda in central Kurram, there have been no reports of troop movement or clashes with militants anywhere near the road in lower Kurram, including in Baggan, the area where militant groups originally launched attacks on Shia convoys in violation of the February peace deal.

One possibility for this is that Taliban militants either abandoned or never maintained permanent positions in the towns and villages along the road and relied on their strongholds in the eastern valley as bases from which to temporarily erect checkpoints along, and raid vehicles on, the Thall-Parachinar road. The more likely explanation is that the road in question, particularly in lower Kurram, runs through areas in the grip of Fazal Saeed’s TTIP militant faction which split off from the TTP days before the launch of the operation and pledged to adhere to the Kurram peace deal.[67] Given the narrow objectives of the operation—to open and secure movement along the main road—this factor would have made it easy for the military to exclude the TTIP from its list of targets.[68] Whether ignoring Saeed’s group jeopardizes the long-term success of the operation remains to be seen, but the prognosis is not encouraging: the operation’s success now hinges upon the continued good behavior of the TTIP. Guaranteeing such good behavior will be difficult given that Saeed was responsible for the initial violation of the February peace deal, despite earlier avowals that his group would adhere to, and help enforce, the terms of the agreement. For now, only FC-escorted traffic has been authorized for travel along the road.[69]

 

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPs)

Even before hostilities commenced in Kurram, locals began fleeing areas expected to come under attack.[70] At the onset of the operation, Arshad Khan, Director General of the FATA Disaster Management Authority (FDMA), estimated that 8,000 to 12,000 families could be displaced, but this number turned out to be closer to 21,000.[71] As of July 27, the operation in Kurram had displaced around 100,000 residents of the agency, nearly one-fourth of the agency’s population.[72] The number far exceeded Pakistani government expectations and led to shortages of relief materials for the IDPs.[73]

IDP flows to relief camps varied depending on where families were fleeing from. The majority of IDPs who ended up in camps went to the New Durrani IDP camp, located approximately 2.5 miles from Sadda, and likely fled areas in the upper sections of the eastern Kurram valley, such as Murghan, Manatu and the Ali Sherzai area.[74] Those in the lower valley, including large numbers fleeing fighting near Kurt, Khalwat, Dumbakai and Dand, escaped across the border to adjacent Hangu district, where they took up residence in smaller camps in Togh Sarai, Tora Warai, Doaba, Naryab and Darsamand.[75] The vast majority of IDPs, however, did not flee to a camp but stayed with relatives in Sadda or Hangu.[76]

The FDMA expected that near 4,000 families would take refuge in the New Durrani Camp.[77] As of July 31, 2,500 families and 12,736 total individuals, including 5,981 under 12-years-old, had arrived at the New Durrani camp where 2,900 tents had been provided with only 2,185 being used.[78]

Worryingly, UN and international aid workers reported being barred by the Pakistani government from entering some relief camps in upper Kurram due to safety concerns following reports that militants had infiltrated the camps and were hiding among IDPs.[79] Many IDPs complained that “the same militants who used to terrorize them are now living with them inside the camp.”[80] The operation’s skeptics argue that the humanitarian crisis brought on by the operation has enabled militants to hide among the IDPs and allowed them to escape being targeted by U.S. drones.[81]

With the conclusion of the operation, the FDMA announced that phased IDP repatriation would begin on August 25, with the first phase involving the return of some 700 families, and that the UN would assist with transport and relief supplies.[82] How long it will take to repatriate all of Kurram’s displaced remains to be seen, and the speed of the repatriation will have a critical effect on the long-term success of the operation.

 

LESSONS AND IMPLICATIONS

The latest operation in Kurram proves instructive on several counts. First, it provides observers with an idea of the kind of force and tactics the Pakistani military believed would be necessary to employ against an enemy of defined strength over a certain size of battlespace. The military employed a brigade-strength infantry force infused with armor units and supplemented by gunship helicopters, artillery and fixed-wing close air support against an estimated enemy strength of 600 fighters spread out over 80 square kilometers and hiding in a mix of semi-urban and mountainous environments.[83]

Second, the operation is enlightening in that it highlights the fact that TTP militants increasingly refuse to present battle against conventional forces. Large numbers of militants fled well before the operation commenced. Fazal Saeed’s forces made peace with the government once the launch of an operation seemed inevitable. Even those that stayed mainly seemed to engage oncoming forces from a distance, and in small numbers.[84] Militants positioned at great distances from each other made frequent use of caves in order to take intermittent shots at soldiers before returning to cover, possibly under the assumption that the military was unlikely to go to the trouble of assaulting such positions to kill individual fighters.

As a result, only a fraction of the militants who originally afflicted the affected area were killed. Most of them were able to flee to alternative safe havens. In order to make military gains permanent in such circumstances, the army will need to take further action. It will need to infuse the area with a larger force and maintain overwatch for a significant amount of time in order to prevent militant re-infiltration, and/or it will need to rapidly repatriate the IDP population and convince it to cooperate with government forces in either taking on militants themselves, or providing intelligence against them. In this respect, the military has had more success in some places than in others. While such an approach proved fairly successful in the Swat valley, the military is still having trouble fully repatriating IDPs from South Waziristan and getting them to agree to the idea of assisting them in the fight against militants in their areas.[85] A drawn-out repatriation process could further disaffect tribes impacted by the operation from the Pakistani government.

 

CONCLUSION

In a narrow sense, the military’s operation in Kurram was successful. The operation: fulfilled the popular demand for action against those elements that were violating the February 2011 peace deal; eliminated TTP strongholds that threatened the Thall-Parachinar road; disrupted a frequently traveled route that allowed militant fighters to easily and quickly traverse between Orakzai and Khyber agencies and North Waziristan agency; strong-armed Fazal Saeed and his new TTIP into discontinuing attacks upon Shia travelers on the road; and created the conditions for the reopening of traffic along the Thall-Parachinar route, the key demand from Kurram locals.

Yet the manner in which the above was achieved has opened the door to a number of negative externalities, both for Pakistan and for stability in Afghanistan. While the army may have reinstated the peace deal, choosing not to take on Fazal Saeed’s fighters in Kurram may have jeopardized the deal’s longevity. Whether or not the deal holds is now entirely dependent on the good behavior of Fazal Saeed and the TTIP, of which there can be no guarantee—unless the military is ready to undertake a second, larger operation should the TTIP violate the deal’s terms again. Furthermore, the government and military have allowed the TTIP to essentially govern in those spaces where it holds sway, undermining the writ of the government, and have done nothing to prevent the TTIP from operating freely against American and coalition forces in Afghanistan.

The successful reinstatement of the peace deal, while a boon for Kurram’s population, particularly its Shias, will also significantly strengthen the position of the Haqqani Network. The Haqqanis will regain their ability to use Shia areas of Kurram to reach deep inside Afghanistan and will continue to enjoy the use of a new safe haven outside of their main strongholds in North Waziristan. As a result, targeting the Haqqanis using drone aircraft inside Pakistan will be more difficult, and the network will have increased operational capabilities and, ultimately, deadliness inside Afghanistan.  The TTP’s loss, in this case, also turns out to be the Haqqani Network’s gain: while the defection of Fazal Saeed’s group will cause some weakening of the TTP, the increased cooperation between the Haqqanis and the TTIP increases the Haqqanis’ influence in Kurram agency and gives them an ally in Kurram akin to the one they have with Hafiz Gul Bahadur in North Waziristan. Any strengthening of the Haqqani Network—already Afghanistan’s deadliest insurgent group—is likely to impact long-term stability on both sides of the border. The group is closely affiliated with, cooperates with and supports al Qaeda and other Pakistani militant groups that consider the Pakistani state to be a legitimate target. While the Haqqani Network and the TTP may occasionally quarrel over specific issues, they are, by and large, mutually accommodating and frequently share the same havens, facilities and operatives. Distinctions between the myriad groups are superficial at best and delusional at worst; to strengthen one in the hope of weakening another is to leave the enemy at overall par strength.

On balance, the operation in Kurram, while a tactical success, aimed to gather the low-hanging fruit—only a small part of a larger enemy was targeted in a sliver of territory. Whether or not Operation Koh-e-Sufaid proved decisive in bringing long-term peace to Kurram agency will be borne out by time. What is clear, however, is that the operation does not seem to have been a significant contribution to the overall fight against militancy in the FATA. While residents of Kurram may enjoy the short-term benefits of the operation’s tactical successes, its shortcomings expose the larger war effort against militants and militancy in the FATA, Pakistan, and Afghanistan to some dangerous long-term consequences.

 



[1] Author’s interview with Pakistani military sources
Baqir Sajjad Syed, “Army ends operation in Central Kurram,” Dawn, August 19, 2011. Available at http://www.dawn.com/2011/08/19/army-ends-operation-in-central-kurram.html
[2] Expected end date was pre-eid
Urdu TV report, “Operation Koh e Sufaid,” Dunya News, uploaded to Youtube on July 15, 2011. Available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=baYjLGo68I0&feature=related
“Special report: The battle for Kurram Agency,” Express News, uploaded to Youtube on July 24, 2011. Available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nMrB65vNzI4
[3] Reza Jan and Jeffrey Dressler, “The Haqqani Network in Kurram: The Regional Implications of a Growing Insurgency,” The Critical Threats Project and the Insititute for the Study of War, May 9, 2011. Available at http://www.criticalthreats.org/sites/default/files/pdf_upload/analysis/The_Haqqani_Network_in_Kurram_Agency_-_Reza_Jan_-_Jeffrey_Dressler_0.pdf
[4] Ibid
[5] This figure is according to a 1998 census, the last officially conducted census in Pakistan. Actual figures are likely much higher.
http://www.jamestown.org/programs/gta/single/?tx_ttnews[tt_news]=34730&cHash=b0060e4fc9
[6] Reza Jan and Jeffrey Dressler, “The Haqqani Network in Kurram: The Regional Implications of a Growing Insurgency,” The Critical Threats Project and the Insititute for the Study of War, May 9, 2011. Available at http://www.criticalthreats.org/sites/default/files/pdf_upload/analysis/The_Haqqani_Network_in_Kurram_Agency_-_Reza_Jan_-_Jeffrey_Dressler_0.pdf
[7] Ibid
[8] Ibid
[9] Ibid
[10] Ibid
[11] Ibid
[12] Ibid
[13] “13 killed in Kurram attack on minibus,” Daily Times, March 26, 2011. Available at http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2011\03\26\story_26-3-2011_pg1_1
[14] Jeffrey Dressler, “Pakistan’s Kurram Offensive: Implications for Afghanistan,” Institute for the Study of War, August 18, 2011. Available at http://www.understandingwar.org/files/Backgrounder_PakistansKurramOffensive.pdf 
[15] “Taliban welcome Kurram truce,” Dawn, February 8, 2011. Available at http://www.dawn.com/2011/02/08/taliban-welcome-kurram-truce.html
Jeffrey Dressler, “Pakistan’s Kurram Offensive: Implications for Afghanistan,” Institute for the Study of War, August 18, 2011. Available at http://www.understandingwar.org/files/Backgrounder_PakistansKurramOffensive.pdf 
[16] Zia Khan, “Kurram Agency: Haqqani warns Hakimullah not to sabotage peace deal,” Express Tribune, May 2, 2011. Available at http://parachinar616.wordpress.com/2011/05/02/kurram-agency-haqqani-warns-hakimullah-not-to-%E2%80%98sabotage%E2%80%99-peace-deal/
[17] “Army hints at operation in Kurram agency,” Dawn, May 20, 2011. Available at http://www.dawn.com/2011/05/20/army-hints-at-operation-in-kurram-agency.html
[18] “Taliban commander Fazal Saeed leaves TTP,” Dawn, June 27, 2011. Available at
[19] “Taliban commander Fazal Saeed leaves TTP,” Dawn, June 27, 2011. Available at
http://www.dawn.com/2011/06/27/tehreek-e-taliban-pakistan-splits.html
Rahimullah Yusufzai, “Rebel TTP commander claims his groups is getting offers of support,” The News, June 30, 2011. Available at http://www.thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=7092&Cat=13&dt=6/30/2011
[20] “Kurram: Operation Eyewash in Pakistan,” SATP, August 2, 2011. Available at
[21] “Taliban commander Fazal Saeed leaves TTP,” AFP, June 27, 2011. Available at http://www.dawn.com/2011/06/27/tehreek-e-taliban-pakistan-splits.html
[22] Rahimullah Yusufzai, “Rebel TTP commander claims his groups is getting offers of support,” The News, June 30, 2011. Available at http://www.thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=7092&Cat=13&dt=6/30/2011
“The sham operation in Kurram,” Daily Times, July 7, 2011. Available at
[23] “The Significance of Fazal Saeed’s Defection from the Pakistani Taliban,” CTC, July 1, 2011. Available at
[24] Jane Perlez, “Pakistan Finds Local Allies Against Ferocious Foe,” New York Times, October 20, 2009. Available at http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/21/world/asia/21waziristan.html
[25] Author’s interview with Pakistani military sources
[26] Ibid
[27] Ibid
[28] Ibid
Urdu TV report, “Operation Koh e Sufaid,” Dunya News, uploaded to Youtube on July 15, 2011. Available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=baYjLGo68I0&feature=related
“Special report: The battle for Kurram Agency,” Express News, uploaded to Youtube on July 24, 2011. Available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nMrB65vNzI4
Urdu TV news, “Frontline Report on Kurram Operation Zahir Sherazi,” Dawn News, uploaded to Youtube July 13, 2011. Available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gAFpI_ZVe1k&feature=related
[29] Author’s interview with Pakistani military sources
[30] Author’s interview with Pakistani military sources
Urdu TV report, “Operation Koh e Sufaid,” Dunya News, uploaded to Youtube on July 15, 2011. Available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=baYjLGo68I0&feature=related
“Special report: The battle for Kurram Agency,” Express News, uploaded to Youtube on July 24, 2011. Available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nMrB65vNzI4
Urdu TV news, “Frontline Report on Kurram Operation Zahir Sherazi,” Dawn News, uploaded to Youtube July 13, 2011. Available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gAFpI_ZVe1k&feature=related
[31] Reza Jan and Jeffrey Dressler, “The Haqqani Network in Kurram: The Regional Implications of a Growing Insurgency,” The Critical Threats Project and the Insititute for the Study of War, May 9, 2011. Available at http://www.criticalthreats.org/sites/default/files/pdf_upload/analysis/The_Haqqani_Network_in_Kurram_Agency_-_Reza_Jan_-_Jeffrey_Dressler_0.pdf
[32] Ibid
[33] The operation targeted areas known to house TTP operatives in central Kurram. Areas known to be under the control of TTIP forces and where the Haqqani Network is suspected of sheltering were not targeted in the operation.
Baqir Sajjad Syed, “Army ends operation in Central Kurram,” Dawn, August 19, 2011. Available at http://www.dawn.com/2011/08/19/army-ends-operation-in-central-kurram.html
[34] “Bibhu Prasad Routray: Skewed objectives and inherent operational failure in Pakistan’s Kurram Agency,” Al Arabiya, July 6, 2011. Available at http://english.alarabiya.net/views/2011/07/06/156379.html
[35] http://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx?articleId=707451&publicationSubCategoryId=200
“Special report: The battle for Kurram Agency,” Express News, uploaded to Youtube on July 24, 2011. Available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nMrB65vNzI4
[36] Mullah Toofan and Tariq Afridi operate between Kurram and upper Orakzai, where much of their infrastructure is still based.
Zia Khan, “Averting a doomsday scenario,” Express Tribune, October 27, 2010. Available at http://tribune.com.pk/story/68588/averting-a-doomsday-scenario-back-page/
Rahimullah Yusufzai, “Rebel TTP commander claims his groups is getting offers of support,” The News, June 30, 2011. Available at http://www.thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=7092&Cat=13&dt=6/30/2011
[37] Rahimullah Yusufzai, “Rebel TTP commander claims his groups is getting offers of support,” The News, June 30, 2011. Available at http://www.thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=7092&Cat=13&dt=6/30/2011
[38] Zia Khan, “Averting a doomsday scenario,” Express Tribune, October 27, 2010. Available at http://tribune.com.pk/story/68588/averting-a-doomsday-scenario-back-page/
[39] Rahimullah Yusufzai, “Rebel TTP commander claims his groups is getting offers of support,” The News, June 30, 2011. Available at http://www.thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=7092&Cat=13&dt=6/30/2011
[40] Reza Jan, Nicholas Patella and Benjamin Shultz, “Daily Tracker: Pakistani Military Operations in Orakzai,” Critical Threats Project, May 13, 2011. Available at http://www.criticalthreats.org/pakistan/daily-tracker-pakistani-military-operations-orakzai-mar-30-2010
[41] Author’s interview with Pakistani military sources
“Special report: The battle for Kurram Agency,” Express News, uploaded to Youtube on July 24, 2011. Available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nMrB65vNzI4
Urdu TV report, “Operation Koh e Sufaid,” Dunya News, uploaded to Youtube on July 15, 2011. Available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=baYjLGo68I0&feature=related
[42] “Nine militants killed in Kurram raid,” Dawn, June 25, 2011. Available at http://www.dawn.com/2011/06/25/nine-militants-killed-in-kurram-raid-2.html
[43] “Special report: The battle for Kurram Agency,” Express News, uploaded to Youtube on July 24, 2011. Available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nMrB65vNzI4
[44] Urdu TV news, “Frontline Report on Kurram Operation Zahir Sherazi,” Dawn News, uploaded to Youtube July 13, 2011. Available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gAFpI_ZVe1k&feature=related
Author’s interview with Pakistani military sources
[45] Author’s interview with Pakistani military sources
Urdu TV news, “Frontline Report on Kurram Operation Zahir Sherazi,” Dawn News, uploaded to Youtube July 13, 2011. Available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gAFpI_ZVe1k&feature=related
[46] Ali Afzaal and Mushtaq Yusufzai, “Forces enter militant strongholds in Kurram,” The News, July 5, 2011. Available at http://www.thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=7208&Cat=13
[47] Ibid
[48] Ibid
[49] Iqbal Hussain, “35 militants killed in nKurram clash,” The News, July 7, 2011. Available at http://www.thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=7245&Cat=13
[50] Urdu TV news, “Frontline Report on Kurram Operation Zahir Sherazi,” Dawn News, uploaded to Youtube July 13, 2011. Available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gAFpI_ZVe1k&feature=related
[51] “Special report: The battle for Kurram Agency,” Express News, uploaded to Youtube on July 24, 2011. Available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nMrB65vNzI4
[52] Author’s interview with Pakistani military sources
“Special report: The battle for Kurram Agency,” Express News, uploaded to Youtube on July 24, 2011. Available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nMrB65vNzI4
[53] Iqbal Hussain, “35 militants killed in nKurram clash,” The News, July 7, 2011. Available at http://www.thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=7245&Cat=13
[54] Author’s interview with Pakistani military sources
“Special report: The battle for Kurram Agency,” Express News, uploaded to Youtube on July 24, 2011. Available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nMrB65vNzI4
[55] Ibid
[56] Ibid
[57] Ibid
[58] “Tribesmen kill six militants in Kurram,” Dawn, July 21, 2011. Available at http://www.dawn.com/2011/07/21/tribesmen-kill-six-militants-in-kurram.html
“At least 20 militants killed in central Kurram,” Dawn, July 23, 2011. Available at http://www.dawn.com/2011/07/23/at-least-20-militants-killed-in-central-kurram.html
[59] Imtiaz Gul, The Most Dangerous Place: Pakistan's Lawless Frontier (June 10, 2010).
[60] Based on news reports of military advances, the northwest pincer was appeared to be covering ground more rapidly than its southeastern counterpart.
[61] Tom Hussain, “Elite Pakistani troops move into Taliban mountain stronghold,” The National, July 6, 2011. Available at http://www.thenational.ae/news/worldwide/south-asia/elite-pakistani-troops-move-into-taliban-mountain-stronghold?pageCount=0
[62] “Special report: The battle for Kurram Agency,” Express News, uploaded to Youtube on July 24, 2011. Available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nMrB65vNzI4
[63] Ibid
[64] Tom Hussain, “Elite Pakistani troops move into Taliban mountain stronghold,” The National, July 6, 2011. Available at http://www.thenational.ae/news/worldwide/south-asia/elite-pakistani-troops-move-into-taliban-mountain-stronghold?pageCount=0
[65] Zulfiqar Ali, “Return of Kurram IDPs from Aug 25,” Dawn, August 18, 2011. Available at http://www.dawn.com/2011/08/18/return-of-kurram-idps-from-aug-25.html
“40 militants killed in Kurram clashes,” Geo News, July 7, 2011. Available at http://www.geo.tv/7-7-2011/83406.htm
Iqbal Hussain, “35 militants killed in nKurram clash,” The News, July 7, 2011. Available at http://www.thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=7245&Cat=13
[66] Baqir Sajjad Syed, “Army ends operation in Central Kurram,” Dawn, August 19, 2011. Available at http://www.dawn.com/2011/08/19/army-ends-operation-in-central-kurram.html
Urdu TV report, “Operation Koh e Sufaid,” Dunya News, uploaded to Youtube on July 15, 2011. Available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=baYjLGo68I0&feature=related
[67] Baqir Sajjad Syed, “Army ends operation in Central Kurram,” Dawn, August 19, 2011. Available at http://www.dawn.com/2011/08/19/army-ends-operation-in-central-kurram.html 
[68] Ibid
[69] Ibid
[71] Ibid
[72] “Up to 100,000 flee Kurram offensive,” AFP, July 27, 2011. Available at
The population of Kurram was 448, 310 as of 1998 (latest count). See “Population Demography,” Available at http://www.fata.gov.pk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=56&Itemid=92
[73] “Up to 100,000 flee Kurram offensive,” AFP, July 27, 2011. Available at
[74] Zulfiqar Ali, “Return of Kurram IDPs from Aug 25,” Dawn, August 18, 2011. Available at http://www.dawn.com/2011/08/18/return-of-kurram-idps-from-aug-25.html
[75] Zahir Shah, “Manato in Kurram Agency falls to Pakistan army,” Central Asia Online, July 14, 2011. Available at http://centralasiaonline.com/cocoon/caii/xhtml/en_GB/pakistan-features/caii/features/pakistan/main/2011/07/14/feature-01
“40 militants killed in Kurram clashes,” The News, July 7, 2011. Available at http://www.thenews.com.pk/NewsDetail.aspx?ID=18256
[76] “More than 1,000 families flee Pakistan fighting,” AFP, July 4, 2011. Available at
[77] “More than 1,000 families flee Pakistan fighting,” AFP, July 4, 2011. Available at
[78] “Kurram Update,” FDMA, July 31, 2011. Available at
[79] “Kurram: Operation Eyewash in Pakistan,” SATP, August 2, 2011. Available at
[80] “The Significance of Fazal Saeed’s Defection from the Pakistani Taliban,” CTC, July 1, 2011. Available at
[81] “Bibhu Prasad Routray: Skewed objectives and inherent operational failure in Pakistan’s Kurram Agency,” Al Arabiya, July 6, 2011. Available at http://english.alarabiya.net/views/2011/07/06/156379.html
“The Significance of Fazal Saeed’s Defection from the Pakistani Taliban,” CTC, July 1, 2011. Available at
[82] Zulfiqar Ali, “Return of Kurram IDPs from Aug 25,” Dawn, August 18, 2011. Available at http://www.dawn.com/2011/08/18/return-of-kurram-idps-from-aug-25.html
[83] If Saeed had not defected, however, enemy strengths may have been as high as 1,400
[84] “Special report: The battle for Kurram Agency,” Express News, uploaded to Youtube on July 24, 2011. Available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nMrB65vNzI4
[85] Reza Jan, “Paradise Regained: Swat One Year On,” CriticalThreats.org, May 25, 2010. Available at http://www.criticalthreats.org/pakistan/paradise-regained-swat-one-year-may-25-2010
Reza Jan, “Trickling Home to South Waziristan,” Foreign Policy, December 10, 2010. Available at http://www.criticalthreats.org/pakistan/trickling-home-south-waziristan-December-10-2010