Friday, October 16, 2009

(BN) Pakistani Jihadists Adopt Commando Tactics to Gain Psychological Advantage

Bloomberg News, sent from my iPhone.

Pakistani Jihadists' Tactics Seek Psychological Edge

Oct. 16 (Bloomberg) -- Pakistan's Taliban and its allies are turning to commando raids on police and soldiers, on top of suicide bombings, as a tactic to convince Pakistanis the government can't contain them.

Guerrillas firing assault rifles and throwing hand grenades stormed three police complexes yesterday in Lahore, the country's second-largest city, and militants exploded two bombs in northwestern Pakistan. Six major operations in a week have killed more than 130 troops, police officers and civilians.

"There seems to be a new strategy by terrorists in recent attacks," said Rana Sanaullah, law minister of Punjab province, of which Lahore is the capital. Attacking and taking hostages is meant "to get maximum TV coverage and make their demands."

At least 26 people were killed in yesterday's attacks on a federal police headquarters and two police training centers in Lahore, plus in bombings of a police station in the town of Kohat and a government building in Peshawar.

While suicide bombings have killed three-quarters of those who died in the past week, most of the Pakistani media's focus has been on the commando assaults yesterday and the 22-hour siege involving Taliban-affiliated attackers this past weekend at Pakistan's army headquarters in Rawalpindi.

After years of relying on bomb attacks within Pakistan, jihadist groups have made at least four commando-style assaults this year, two in the past week.

Mumbai Raid

The raids echo last November's three-day attack on Mumbai, India's business capital, when 10 gunmen killed 166 people at a railway station, restaurant and two luxury hotels. India blamed the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba group and halted peace talks with its nuclear-armed neighbor.

The more complex attacks in Pakistan show the groups "are trying to demonstrate their prowess and appear larger than life," said Kamran Bokhari, regional director for the Middle East and South Asia at Stratfor, an Austin, Texas-based intelligence-consulting firm.

Jihadists did use commando assaults in Lahore in March, against a bus carrying the Sri Lankan cricket team and at a police academy that was attacked again yesterday. The tactic has been revived in an effort to fight back after the army drove the Taliban out of the Swat Valley in July and a missile strike killed their top commander, Baitullah Mehsud, in August, Bokhari said by telephone from Islamabad, Pakistan's capital.

The week-long spate of attacks is in part an effort to demoralize Pakistan's security forces as the army has deployed what it says are 28,000 troops around the stronghold of Mehsud's Taliban faction, in the mountainous region of Waziristan, near the Afghan border.

Attacking the Army

The government said this week it has given the army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, authority to begin an offensive against Mehsud's fighters, and warplanes have been pounding their positions in the area.

The jihadists boosted the perception of their power through public shock over their Oct. 10 assault on the seat of the army, Pakistan's most powerful institution, said Mehdi Hassan, the dean of the School of Media and Communications at Lahore's Beaconhouse National University.

The commando attacks are "part of a well-planned psychological war campaign" and have helped create "a national atmosphere of crisis," said Hassan. The groups are creating uncertainty in the country of 180 million, partly because of more than two dozen TV news channels that sprang up under the army-led regime of former President Pervez Musharraf, he said in a telephone interview.

The channels "compete intensely for any breaking news" and "any sense of crisis," said Owais Ali, secretary general of the Pakistan Press Foundation, which trains journalists. "It's like the first three days of coverage of 9/11 in America, only imagine it going on for seven years," he said in a telephone interview from Karachi.

To contact the reporter on this story: James Rupert in New Delhi at jrupert3@bloomberg.net .

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