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Pakistan's 'haunting' Taliban problem

By Orla Guerin
BBC News, Bajaur

Pakistani troops pounding Taliban positions
The Pakistani army says that it is doing all it can to combat the Taliban

Pakistani forces fighting the Taliban near the Afghan border claim American and Afghan troops aren't doing enough to help.

Commanders in the troubled north western region of Bajaur complain of a lack of effort, and a lack of troops, on the other side of frontier.

They claim American and Afghan forces aren't taking strong enough action against the militants - an accusation traditionally levelled against Pakistan itself.

Senior military officials claim Taliban fighters are able to re-arm in Afghanistan, and cross back into Pakistan.

'Crush them'

"It is a problem that is haunting us," said Lt Col Nadir Khan, commander of Pakistani forces in the Charmang valley, which leads to the border. He spoke within sight of the brooding peaks which mark the remote frontier.

Lt Col Nadir Khan
While we are clearing them here, they are not being effectively dealt with across the border
Lt Col Nadir Khan

"If you look at the distant ridge you can see the footpaths leading into our area," he said.

"They have a number of routes open to them. They can muster support from over the border and can bring the manpower, weapons and ammunition. There is a constant stream of supplies."

Lt Col Khan estimates that the journey to the Charmang valley from the Afghan province of Kunar takes eight to 10 hours on foot.

"We are able to crush them, and hit them," he said, "but then with fresh supplies we have this type of problem.

"They can come and strike our heads again.

"While we are clearing them here, they are not being effectively dealt with across the border. I think the coalition can do more. They can choke off their supplies."

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Commanders here say they have "significant control" in the valley, but that the fight is far from over, because of the problems on the other side.

"Definitely it is frustrating for us," said Lt Col Khan.

The coalition denies a lack of activity, or of personnel, on the Afghan side of the border.

It says there are several units operating in the Kunar river valley, as part of "Task Force Mountain Warrior" which is several thousand strong. These units are working with both the Afghan National Army and Afghan border police.

The coalition says that it recently conducted "complimentary operations" with Pakistani forces, "maintaining consistent communications".

Pockets of resistance

"We will continue to co-ordinate with our Afghan and Pakistani counterparts," said Col Randy A George, commander of Task Force Mountain Warrior, "to conduct complimentary operations along the international border to bring peace and stability."

Pakistani officers attend a meeting with locals
The army says its doing all it can to win over local support

"Border security is an issue for both governments because it is rough terrain that isn't easily accessible for either side, and is tough to defend."

On that much, there is agreement on both sides of the frontier.

"This is a very porous border," says Lt Col Khan. "To guard each and every inch of the border would be a Herculean effort. It's not possible."

Nearby, troops loaded up the heavy guns for another assault on Taliban positions. The've already been fighting in Bajaur for more than a year. Around 130 soldiers have lost their lives battling the Taliban and their al-Qaeda allies.

The Charmang valley is one of the remaining pockets of resistance. Asked if he was worried he might be fighting there forever, Lt Col Khan replied: "Yes. Yes. If it is not done from across the border. Maybe."

While arms and accusations go back and forth across the border, the Taliban continue to strike, often at soft targets. Two of their latest victims were women school teachers. They were shot dead in broad daylight in the town of Khar, not far from the Charmang valley.

Shazia, 30, was one of them. She refused to be intimidated into abandoning her pupils, according to her grief-stricken husband, Kamal Dilawar Khan.

"Earlier the Taliban sent out threats," he said, "and I asked her not to go to Bajaur. But she replied that she was not scared and that she would continue with her teaching because it was a service to the nation. When I got the news I lost my mind, I lost my heart and the whole world collapsed for me."

Her killer melted away, disappearing into the traffic. The army has been arresting hardcore Taliban suspects. But it says that for every fighter detained, someone else could be crossing the border to take their place.



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