By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Dec. 16, 2009 - The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff got a first-hand look at Taliban tactics during a tour of Pakistan's Swat province today. The Taliban took over the picturesque province in the spring, and in May the Pakistani military launched an offensive. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen and Pakistani Army Chief of Staff Gen. Asfaq Kiyani visited Pakistani units in Malakand and Kalam in Swat that have retaken the area.
The two flew in an Mi-17 helicopter from Islamabad. Following the trip, Mullen met with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Syeeb Gilani.
Mullen spoke about the trip to reporters traveling with him today.
The province – roughly the size of Maryland – has a population of about 1.7 million. It is a beautiful area where, in better times, Pakistanis would vacation and ski the many mountain slopes.
Mullen visited the area in July in the midst of the Pakistani offensive. Then, more than 140,000 people were in refugee camps, and millions more had left the province and sheltered with families in other parts of Pakistan.
"For all intents and purposes, the insurgents are gone," Mullen said. He discussed how the operations went with commanders of the 37th Division in the southern, more urban part of the province, and the 19th Division in the north.
The Pakistani military in the region embraced counterinsurgency strategy. "They know it's not just about security," Mullen said. The army has projects there to encourage jobs. The military has completed 383 projects at a cost of $2.4 million, with another 906 projects under way at a cost of $8.9 million.
"There's a need for national and international support to get the services going for the people," the admiral said. The refugees are back in Swat, and while life is not yet normal, "it's a whole lot better than it was," he said.
The Pakistani military has done an exceptional job in Swat, the chairman said. And the Pakistani Frontier Corps played a large role in the fight, he noted. "It's a transformed force from what it was two short years ago," Mullen said. "I mean completely changed – equipped, trained, in the fight, morale is up."
The plan for the province was classic counterinsurgency strategy, first clearing the province of terrorists, and then executing the "hold and build" portion.
But now comes the hard part, Mullen said to Pakistani leaders, as they must sustain the effort to build the infrastructure and create jobs. The region had been a vacationland, and Taliban leaders burned all of the hotels and hostels that catered to tourists. While the army has helped rebuild some of them, more money and time will be needed for the area to fully recover, the chairman said.
The Taliban also ruined schools and other public buildings. The region has a literacy rate of about 40 percent. The schools must be rebuilt quickly, Mullen said, as the schools left are overcrowded and a generation of young boys and girls may be lost.
Pakistani leaders showed Mullen what life was like under Taliban rule. They described the "justice" system of floggings, beatings and killings. Many bodies were found with their throats slit, and Taliban executioners held contests in which the winner had to skin a human being the fastest. "That's how they intimidated the people," said a U.S. official who accompanied the admiral.
The admiral also toured a Pakistani facility that cares for young men – boys, really – whom the Taliban tried to turn into fanatics and suicide bombers. The Taliban taxed each family 600 ruppees, and if a family didn't have the money, they took a boy.
The Sabaoom facility teaches the boys – ages 12 to 17 – trades and helps to rehabilitate them from brainwashing. A team of psychologists visits the school several times a week to provide counseling. A nongovernmental organization provides the instruction, and the army built the facility.
"It was a real wake-up call to them and the citizens of Swat who really didn't understand the Taliban," Mullen said.