The beginning of Al Qaeda’s unannounced war on Pakistan

March 11, 2012. Another suicide bomb strikes Pakistan. This time it leaves fifteen people killed and thirty-seven injured in Peshawar, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Pre-9/11 Pakistan had been a victim to just one suicide bombing; post-9/11 has been a victim to more than 303 suicide bombs. These attacks have accounted for the lives of 4,808 everyday Pakistanis. Another 10,149 Pakistanis have been left injured by these attacks. What is even more saddening is that these are figures that keep growing each and everyday at a staggering speed. Also these figures of casualties suffered by Pakistan in the ‘War on Terror’ surpass those that both the US and NATO have incurred together.

For a Pakistani it seems almost impossible not to ponder what set off the chain of events that have had such a devastating affect on the lives of each and every Pakistani. The most common answer to this is usually bestowed to the events on September 11, 2001, when terror struck at the heart of New York. After that the other common answer seems to rotate around ‘Operation Sunrise’, when the Pakistani army stormed the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) in Islamabad on July 2007. But there is another event, not quite as famous as the previous two, that might be the answer that an average Pakistani seeks, an event that saw the beginning of Al Qaeda’s unannounced war on Pakistan- The Battle of Wana.

Wana is a town located in South Waziristan, Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan. The Wazir tribes, whose origin dates back centuries, inhabit the complex white mountainous terrain that is closely aligned with Afghanistan. Months after the terrorist’s attack of 9/11, Pakistan for the first time since its independence in 1947, deployed the army to FATA in 2002. By late December 2003, differences between the army and the Wazir tribe reached heightened levels. March 16, 2004 saw the army engage in an altercation with Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters. This led to what would be known afterwards as the Battle of Wana.

Initially the army was on the receiving end of heavy casualties. That was until the army deployed its 20th Mountain Brigade as backup. As days passed by the battle intensified. Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters continued to strike back hard at the army due to the advantageous and strategic points that they had on top of mountains, which allowed them to monitor every movement of the Pakistani soldiers. The insurgents gained further strength when more foreign fighters joined in from Afghanistan. This led to airstrikes by the Army Corps of Aviation on suspected posts and hidden positions of the insurgents as the army intensified its efforts to capture the peaks of the mountains.

By the dawn of March 18th 2004, after days of heavy and intense fighting, the army was able to control all key strategic points that enabled them to gain an upper hand on the insurgents. But Taliban and Al Qaeda re-launched one last effort to fight back which led to the fight spewing off to the near by mountains. Slowly the insurgent fighters started to retreat and leave the entire white mountainous terrain of Wana for Afghanistan. As the army cleared off the area they found secret tunnels in the mountains, which led straight into Afghanistan’s infamous Tora Bora region. Pakistani soldiers also reported sightings of a mysterious foreigner believed to be Al Qaeda’s number 2, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, who managed to escape through one of the secret tunnels.

March 23rd 2004 saw the Battle of Wana come to an end. It is considered to be one of Pakistan army’s most bloody battles where an estimate of around 9,000 troops fought 400 plus Taliban and Al Qaeda Insurgents. The battle was the first time that the Pakistani army came face to face with Osama Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda since the morning of 9/11. Prior to this battle Pakistan had witnessed 4 suicide bombs in 3 years, mainly targeting foreigners in Pakistan. After this battle, Pakistan witnessed 31 suicide bombs in the next 4 years, mainly targeting Pakistan’s governmental and security agencies. The success at the Battle of Wana came not only at a heavy human price for the Pakistani army but as millions of Pakistanis were going to find out years later, at a heavy price for the country as a whole.