https://pakistan.asia-news.com/en_GB/articles/cnmi_pf/features/2020/02/20/feature-01
Security

Recent killings of TTP leaders in Afghanistan leave group crippled

By Zia Ur Rehman

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In this photograph taken on November 25, 2019, Afghan security forces take part in an ongoing operations in Nangarhar province near the Pakistan border. [Noorullah Shirzada/AFP]

KARACHI -- The recent killings of key Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) commanders in Afghanistan have left the group severely weakened and directionless, observers say.

Sheikh Khalid Haqqani, a member of the group's consultative council, and Qari Saifullah Peshawari, another leader, were killed in a clash with security forces in Afghanistan on January 31, the TTP acknowledged February 6.

Meanwhile, Shehryar Mehsud, a close associate of slain TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud and chief of a militant faction that is part of the umbrella TTP, was killed February 12 by a remote-controlled bomb in Kunar Province, Afghanistan.

Following a crackdown on the TTP's various factions across Pakistan, the militants shifted their hideouts to neighbouring provinces of Afghanistan.

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Paramilitary Rangers on January 28 perform security duties in Karachi. After crackdowns by security forces on the TTP across the country, militants have shifted their hideouts to Afghanistan's neighbouring provinces. [Zia Ur Rehman]

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A file photo shows civil society activists in Karachi protesting in December 2017 against the brutality of Taliban militants. [Zia Ur Rehman]

There, they mastermind terrorist acts to be carried out in Pakistan and launch cross-border attacks, causing tension between the Pakistani and Afghan governments.

The TTP itself in its recent book "Inqilab Mehsud" admitted that a number of its key leaders have been killed in joint operations along the border over the past few years.

The third and latest edition of the book, released in January and authored by TTP chief Mufti Noor Wali aka Abu Mansoor Asim, names numerous leaders who were killed in Barmal District, Paktika Province, Afghanistan.

Wali himself became leader in June 2018 after his predecessor, Mullah Fazlullah, was killed in a joint operation by US and Afghan forces in Kunar Province, Afghanistan.

TTP central deputy chief Khan Saeed Mehsud, alias Sajna, was killed along with his guards in Barmal District in February 2018, according to the list.

Another nine key TTP leaders were killed in the district in 2018, according to the book.

Leaders of the TTP's Mehsud faction have been operating hideouts in Barmal District, while members of the Swat faction have been hiding in Kunar and Nuristan, according to a security official who is familiar with the TTP hideouts in Afghanistan.

"The killing of [the TTP's] key leaders, such as Fazlullah and Sajna, in Afghanistan was a great blow to the TTP, which is already crumbling and facing disintegration," he said.

Cross-border terrorism

Pakistan repeatedly has asked the Afghan government to eliminate TTP hideouts along the border.

Last August, Pakistan's Foreign Office formally shared with Afghanistan the locations of terrorist camps along the border and requested that the Afghan government deploy forces to those areas.

"From there [Afghanistan's neighbouring provinces], the TTP and other Taliban factions plan and carry out attacks on Pakistan's security forces and civilians -- mainly aimed at spoiling relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan," said Syed Mujtaba Sarhari, a Karachi-based trader, who does business with Afghanistan.

"Such acts of cross-border terrorism over the past year have led to the shutting down of border crossings and the restriction of the movement of goods and people," said Sarhadi.

"It seems that the militants want to disrupt trade and human contacts between the neighbouring countries," he said.

The weakening of the TTP has led to a decrease in cross-border attacks.

Four cross-border attacks launched from Afghanistan took place in multiple districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) in 2019, down 75% from the previous year, according to an annual security report by the Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS), an Islamabad-based security think-tank.

These attacks killed six Pakistanis -- all army soldiers -- and injured 19 others, including 14 soldiers and five civilians. Militants targeted security forces and their check-posts, mainly in parts of KP bordering on Afghanistan, in all of the incidents.

In 2018, 16 cross-border attacks took place from Afghanistan, according to PIPS. These attacks killed 21 security personnel and 22 militants and wounded 22 other individuals.

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