Elements within the Taliban, based in North Waziristan, have established a separate vigilance cell to hunt down people suspected of providing vital intelligence to guide the United States in its drone campaign.
Known as Lashkar-e-Khorasan (LeKh), the group’s only purpose is to identify, capture and execute people allegedly working for what is described as a web of local spies created by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
The Lashkar draws it strength from both the Haqqani network and the Hafiz Gul Bahadur group — two militias that control the regions along the Afghan border, which the US describes as the most dangerous place on Earth.
The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) led by Hakimullah Mehsud also has its sympathies and what is described as occasional “active cooperation” with the Lashkar.
Though the exact number of members in LeKh is unknown, one source in the tribal areas said it was more than 300.
The regions where the cell works are Datta Khel, Miramshah and Mir Ali town of North Waziristan, as well as surrounding areas where US drone strikes have been frequent.
The vigilance cell was set up for the first time last year by top commanders of the groups, both having a tacit peace understanding with the Pakistan military operating in nearby South Waziristan. The military operation in South Waziristan aims to root out homegrown Taliban striking inside the country.
“In the beginning, it was a loose network with members casually going out and trying to find out who is providing information to the US,” an associate of one of the groups explained to The Express Tribune. “It is more organised now and they are working scientifically on the counter-intelligence line.”
An intelligence official at Pakistan Army headquarters in Rawalpindi and several local sources from Mir Ali and Miramshah also confirmed the existence and activities of the Lashkar, but appeared unaware of its structure.
In 2010, the US stepped up its drone campaign in the mountainous border regions to eliminate what officials in Washington called high-value targets including top leadership of al Qaeda and their local facilitators.
The unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) operated by the US military stationed in Afghanistan to eradicate Taliban militants struck inside Pakistani border areas more than 100 times in 2010 alone, killing some al Qaeda fugitives, but mostly targeting civilians.
Though American officials do not comment on the drone campaign publicly, it is commonly known that the predator hits a mechanical chip on the ground that spies allegedly place at Taliban hideouts.
“The LeKh is working to find out who exactly does that and how Americans are able to find out where the mujahideen (militants) are holding a meeting or which vehicle they are travelling on,” the affiliate of Bahadur group added.
Once a suspect is caught “spying” he is taken to a Taliban court or Darul Qaza where judges or Qazis ask him to explain his position. If proved guilty, the person is executed immediately.
Two months ago, the LeKh was behind the beheading of almost half a dozen motor mechanics in Mir Ali after US officials changed their policy of hitting compounds and instead started targeting moving target or vehicles with Taliban leaders on board.
The mechanics, mostly from nearby Bannu district, became a prey of LeKh’s outrage after they were blamed for placing chips in a Taliban Hilux car to make them a target for US drone strikes.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 28th, 2011.