Suicide attack in Swat kills 16 Pakistani police

Authorities had been recruiting locals to fill Swat's depleted police force. The Taliban have targeted new officers before.

Swat’s new community police force is the valley’s latest antidote to the Taliban: local policemen, natives of Swat, paid good wages to fight the Taliban.

But they are not off to a good start: On Sunday in Mingora, the main town of Swat, a suicide bomber scaled the wall of their new academy and detonated his vest, killing 16 recruits.

The violence suggests that Swat, which has already endured two years of war, could be entering another downward spiral.

A series of unsuccessful raids

Pakistan’s military has launched several waves of attacks in Swat since November 2007. The campaigns have been aimed at dislodging a small but determined militia of Taliban, perhaps 3,000 strong. Beginning last week, the Pakistani military began a new sweep, as the Daily Times, a Pakistani newspaper, reports:

“Attack helicopters on Sunday shelled Taliban hideouts in Swat, killing 30…
The operation in Swat that began on Saturday evening in various parts of Chaharbagh continued on Sunday with ground troops also backing the air raids.

So far, however, campaigns of this kind have all failed to capture of kill the Swat Taliban’s leadership, and the Taliban grunts continue to fight on.

Local police have more backup

In response, regional authorities want to try something new: a community police force, which recruits people native to Swat to combat the Taliban. A blog at the New York Times describes:

“The authorities will pay the community policemen $120 per month, which is better pay than what the police had before…
Now, with this new system, the authorities expect that local police officers will be better able to check on Taliban fighters returning to their villages. Equally importantly, if a community policeman is harmed or killed there will be a tribe or a family behind him: If a local community policeman in Swat is harmed by a Talib, the Talib will face retaliation from the policeman’s family and tribe.”

A local force could help turn around the situation in Swat, which has lacked a sufficient police force since officers quit in droves early this year after the Taliban threatened to kill them (see Monitor story here.)

Taliban train their sights on cadets

But just hours after the military raid began, militants set their sights on the new force, reports Dawn, an English-language newspaper in Pakistan:

A terrorist blew himself up inside a police training centre in Mingora on Sunday, killing 16 recruits of the newly-formed Community Police Force and injuring four others.
Officials said that about 50 cadets of the force were getting training at the centre when the bomber sneaked into the parade ground and detonated explosives strapped to his body…
This was the second suicide attack in Swat since the military launched an offensive in the valley. Three soldiers were killed when a bomber hit a security post on Aug 15.

The Taliban have gone after cadets before: In March, they attacked a police academy near Lahore. Police make an attractive target, the Monitor reported then. "Police are the weakest link. They are the most vulnerable and the most essential to the state," Samina Ahmed, an analyst with the International Crisis Group, explained to the Monitor.

Sunday's attack underscores that the Taliban in Swat have not been sufficiently weakened by the military, but are still very much in the fight and capable of devastating strikes.

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