peshawar attack army reactionAt 10 a.m. (local time), on December 16, at least nine Taliban fighters, all of them heavily armed and wearing suicide vests, quietly entered a military-run school in Peshawar, a city in North-Western Pakistan, killing at least 130 students and teachers, Reuters reports. One witness says the attackers “bypassed the heavily guarded main entrance and slipped in through a less frequently used back entrance”, and other witnesses say that some of the terrorists “were wearing Pakistani army uniforms”. The attack was “lauded by Taliban insurgents as revenge for the killings of their own relatives by the Pakistani army”, Reuters also reports. The same open source indicates that “interviews with witnesses showed most victims were shot in the first hours of the assault when gunmen sprayed the premises with bullets in an indiscriminate massacre”, and also that “it was possible that some were also killed in the ensuing gunfight with Pakistani armed forces who stormed the building”, where some 500 pupils were present when the attack started[1].

Media reports are indicating that Taliban activities of all sorts are increasingly bold again, both in Pakistan and in Afghanistan. For example, “Taliban fighters killed at least five Afghan soldiers in a three-day offensive in a region near Pakistan, [Afghan] officials said on Tuesday [December 16], 2014, as fighting heats up on both sides of the border during the withdrawal of most foreign troops from Afghanistan”. The open source we are quoting from reports that “fighters from both Pakistan and Afghanistan mounted the attack aimed at taking control of Kunar province’s remote Dangam district, which is on the border”, and that “Dangam is about 70 miles (110 km) from Peshawar”[2].

More details in Pakistani media reports

Pakistani media sources indicate that the total number of victims is higher than that present in Western open sources. The Dawn, for example, reports that “Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) leader Shireen Mazari said that out of total 146 people killed in [the] tragic incident, nearly 140 killed are children. She said 113 people including children were injured in the attack also”. The same open source says that the military operations against the attackers came to an end late in the afternoon, being seriously delayed by improvised explosive devices placed by the terrorists. The Pakistani armed forces started massive retaliatory actions, and “according to a tweet by Maj-Gen. Asim Bajwa, Pakistan’s military on actionable intelligence has carried out several raids including 10 airstrikes in Khyber” region, where significant Taliban forces are usually concentrated[3].

Brief conclusions and some forecasting

 For the Taliban forces in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, the end of the NATO-led ISAF mission in Afghanistan is an important window of opportunity. For Taliban actions of all sorts, a sharply decreasing number of highly effective troops belonging to NATO member states will mean diminished risks and threats, plus increased chances to successfully accomplish at least significant tactical and operational goals. Both the attack and carnage in Peshawar, and the attacks in the Dangam district in Afghanistan strongly indicate that the Taliban level of aggressiveness and assertiveness will significantly grow, most probably, along the next few months. Most probably, such attacks are aimed at least at destabilizing the entire AfPak region. The next few months will severely test both the political will and the effectiveness of major institutions in Afghanistan and Pakistan; and, in the case of Afghanistan, the next few months will clearly show if the international efforts aimed at consolidating the national power of the country in the post-Taliban era generated really stable and effective results.

[1] For all these elements see see Mehreen ZAHRA-MALIK, “Pakistani pupils recall narrow escapes, carnage in Taliban slaughter”, Reuters, December 16, 2014, at the Internet address http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/12/16/us-pakistan-school-scene-idUSKBN0JU1WN20141216

[2] Mohammed ANWAR, “Taliban fighters mount offensive near Afghan border with Pakistan”, Reuters, December 16, 2014, at the Internet address http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/12/16/us-afghanistan-kunar-idUSKBN0JU1QB20141216

[3] [Press] Agencies, Zahir Shah SHERAZI, Mateen HAIDER, Hassan JAHANGIRI, Abdul HAKIM,  “Militant siege of Peshawar school ends, 141 killed”, The Dawn (dawn.com), December 16, 2014, at the Internet address http://www.dawn.com/news/1151203/militant-siege-of-peshawar-school-ends-141-killed

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