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 Pakistan Says Radio Chatter Proves Military Campaign Has Weakened Taliban

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PostSubject: Pakistan Says Radio Chatter Proves Military Campaign Has Weakened Taliban   Pakistan Says Radio Chatter Proves Military Campaign Has Weakened Taliban EmptyWed Jun 03, 2009 1:30 am

Published: June 1, 200

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Several weeks into a military campaign to flush militants from a valley north of Pakistan’s capital, the Pakistani military says that intercepted communications show that it has insurgents on the run.

“How are you? Is everything all right?” said the main Taliban commander in the Swat Valley, Maulana Fazlullah, according to the military officials, who say they intercepted the conversation from a handheld radio.

There was no response.

“Don’t lose morale,” Mr. Fazlullah said. “Go into the trees and take the sniper rifles with you. Take aim and fire. You should be able to kill at least one or two.”

The exchange is part of a series of conversations among Taliban militants in Swat that the Pakistani military says it has recorded since its offensive began there last month. The exchanges in Pashto were transcribed, translated into Urdu, Pakistan’s official language, and compiled in a logbook by intelligence officials here, according to senior Pakistani military officials. They allowed The New York Times to read the log, though there was no way to verify its authenticity or its contents independently.

The Pakistani military officials contended that the snippets were proof that the militants had suffered a serious setback in Swat, a scenic valley just north of here that had become a Taliban stronghold.

But they also highlight the frustration of American officials and Pakistani citizens over the fact that the Pakistani military seems able to monitor Taliban leaders, including Mr. Fazlullah, but remains unable or unwilling to kill or capture them.

While the Taliban leaders remain at large, the millions of Pakistanis who have fled Swat and other conflict areas are reluctant to return to their homes. In a text message to journalists on Monday night, a group of liberal activists from Swat said they would not believe that the military was serious about its campaign unless Mr. Fazlullah and his five deputies were killed.

The Swat campaign, which began May 8, is seen as a test of Pakistan’s resolve to tackle its spreading insurgency, which came as close as 60 miles from its capital, Islamabad, this year. Two earlier offensives failed, criticized as half-hearted efforts that inflicted too many civilian casualties.

But this operation is different, military officials contend, because the army has committed more than twice the number of troops and has broad public support, opening a potential opportunity for the government to re-establish its authority in the area.

Although the military campaign in Swat is not over, the militant chatter in recent weeks sounded gloomy, according to the log presented by the Pakistani military officials.

There were some inspirational words, some jihad rallying cries, but also many lost, hungry and isolated voices. One resident of a village, Khazara, said Taliban leaders gathered locals in the Minara Mosque shortly before he and his family fled, demanding contributions of a gun, a son, or 50,000 rupees in cash (about $620), but few obliged.

In one of the intercepts, a militant who called himself Abu Daud asked urgently: “Where are the five boys we trained? Where are they? Bring them here because we need them.”

The response was not encouraging: “One has been killed and two are alive. I don’t know about the others.”

The militants were careful not to give the names of locations, using a system of code names instead, many of them Arabian battles. The military believes that top leaders, including Mr. Fazlullah, are still hiding in Swat, and have not escaped to another area.

A Pakistani military official said that the operation had reduced the area for the FM radio station run by Mr. Fazlullah to just 15 percent of its former coverage area.

The area of fighting has been off limits to journalists, and it is not possible to verify the military’s claims of militants captured or of casualties inflicted. It also remains unclear how much of a fight the militants have put up. Guerrillas often melt away when faced with superior firepower, only to resurface later. Approximately 16,000 troops were committed to the offensive, more than double that of past campaigns.

A Swat resident who fled, Adnan Rashid, said that in the later stages of the fighting, militants were shooting very short bursts from their guns, so as not to waste bullets.

The Pakistani military official said that about 50 people had been taken into custody. Two were Afghans, the military official said, and a handful were from South Waziristan. Two dead bodies were of Uzbeks, the official said, so identified because they were not circumcised. Circumcision is common in Pakistan, but less so in Uzbekistan, a former Soviet republic.

According to the radio transcripts, a man who called himself Jawad fumed on May 27 that villagers were raising white flags on their houses. “Why are these gutless people holding white flags?” he asked.

Another man responded: “Everyone has their own will. How can we stop them?”

Earlier, in a public meeting, everyone supported them, Jawad said. “Tell them if they are scared they should leave, but no one should raise a white flag,” he said.

Young men and boys make up a significant portion of the Taliban in Swat, military officials say, and there was chatter on that topic too.

A man who called himself Khatab said: “Tell all the comrades in your area not to mention the death or injury of mujahedeen to under-age comrades. If they ask if their comrades have been martyred, tell them they’ve gone to some other place.”

Sometimes the young people are a liability.

“We have two boys here who say they are sick and want to go home,” one man said.

The reply came: “Send them to us tomorrow. They’ve become a headache. Keep them under close watch. They know a lot about us.”

Source: NYtimes
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