Battle of Wana

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Not to be confused with Battle of Wanat.
Battle of Wana
Part of the War in North-West Pakistan
Military Intelligence map: The area involved in the fighting.
Date March 16 – March 23, 2004 (7 days)
Location Wana, South Waziristan, Federally Administrated Tribal Areas, Pakistan
Result Pakistan Armed Forces's indecisive victory
  • Capture of area by Pakistan Armed Forces
  • Pakistan consolidates grip with the launch of Operation Rah-e-Nijat
Pakistan State of Pakistan

 Pakistan Army

Commanders and leaders
Flag of the Pakistani Army.svg LGen Ali Jan Aurakzai Afghanistan Nek Wazir 
Ayman al-Zawahiri
Tohir Yuldoshev (WIA)
Units involved
9th Infantry Division
4th Cobra Squadron
20th Mountain Brigade
4–8 F-7, F-16 jets of PAF[1]
~50 members of ISI CAD[1]
400 Al-Qaeda fighters[2]
Casualties and losses
49 soldiers killed,[3][4]
11 soldiers captured,
33 soldiers wounded
55 Al-Qaida fighters killed,[4]
150 fighters captured
15 civilians killed[3]

The Battle of Wana was a military engagement between Pakistan Army and the foreign fighters of al-Qaeda led by Osama Bin Laden.[5] The battle was among one of the bloodiest battle fought by the Pakistan Army, and it ended violently with 49 mountain troop soldiers dead. Hence, it was the first battle that was fought between Pakistani mountaineering troops, paramilitary operatives and foreign fighters[5] affiliated with al-Qaeda which led to start the War in North West-Pakistan. In March 2004, heavy and bloody fighting broke out at Azam Warsak, near the South Waziristan town of Wana, where army troops and intelligence paramilitary soldiers faced an estimated ~500 al-Qaeda foreign fighters holed up in several fortified settlements.[5]

It was speculated at the time that Osama bin Laden's deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri was among those trapped by the Pakistan Army, but he either escaped or was never among these fighters. After week of fighting, the ISPR admitted that it was actually Tohir Yoldeshev who was hiding.[6]


Wana (Pashto: واڼۀ‎, pronounced [ˈwɑɳə]) is a small town inhabitant by the Mehsud and Wazir Tribes. The town is situated in complex series of White mountains range in western Pakistan. The town closely aligned with Tora Bora area of adjacent country, Afghanistan.

In early months of 2002, Pakistan Army sent and deployed large formation of Infantry and Mountaineering Divisions. The Mountaineering and Infantry Divisions were deployed under the command of Lieutenant-General Ali Jan Aurakzai, who later became Governor of North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan. The Army Divisions entered the Tirah Valley in the Khyber Agency for the first time since Pakistan independence in 1947. The troops were later proceeded to move into the Shawal Valley of North Waziristan, and later South Waziristan.

In late December 2003, the tension between Pakistan Government and the Waziri tribes mounted as the tribe leaders viewed the action as an attempt to subjugate them.

Military Intelligence[edit]

According to the reports of the military intelligence, there were ~500–600 al-Qaeda fighters in the region; all militants were Chechens, Uighurs, Uzbeks, Arabs and Tajik fighters.[5][7] By March 19, 2004, a team of ISI's Covert Action Division (CAD) secretly inserted in the Shin Warsak area, where they confirmed the High-value target presence.[1] The media reports claimed that it was Ayman al-Zawahiri hiding in the area and might be holed up in one of the areas.[1] In describing the military intelligence reports, President Musharraf testified that:

"We feel that there may be a high-value target. I can't say who. The ferociousness of the surrounded fighters indicated that they were protecting someone particularly significant.[1] "

After a week of fighting, the ISPR testified that military intelligence sources have confirmed that one of the top al Qaeda leader, Tohir Yo‘ldosh, has been injured in the military operation in the tribal area and has fled the area.[8] According to one version of the military intelligence reports reads:

" Reports indicate that it was actually Tahir and not Zawahiri, who was driving in the bullet-proof double-cabin pick- up truck that subsequently hit a wall and was later found abandoned".[9]"

The Battle for Mountains[edit]

On 13–19 March 2004, a small team of ISI's Covert Action Division and SS Directorate of ISI were inserted by a helicopter in Shin Warsk area to confirm the militant activities.[5] The CAD and SSD teams confirmed the fighters were Chechens, Uzbeks, and Tajiks; therefore, giving start of the operation.[5] On 16 March 2004, the army troops made the first contact with the al-Qaeda foreign fighters around the South Waziristan's small village of Wana.[5]

Air Intelligence map: The Pakistan Armed Forces troops and the foreign fighters fought the phases of the battle in White Mountains (Safed Koh range) of Pakistan, closely aligned to Tora Bora of Afghanistan.

Heavy and intensified fighting between army infantry troops and al-Qaeda foreign fighters began in the small village of Wana, though al-Qaeda had evacuated the village but army had suffered heavy casualties.[10] Soon after the bloody confrontation, the Pakistan Army realized the seriousness of the foreign fighters capabilities, therefore, deployed the 20th Mountain Brigade to support operations in the mountainous areas.[10] Two days later, on March 18, 2004, reports began to surface that the Pakistani military had surrounded a “high-value” target, possibly Al-Qaeda's second-in-command Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri.[10] However, both the Pakistani and U.S. military refused to confirm or deny Zawahiri's presence.[1] The army surrounded the mountain redoubt where al-Qaeda foreign fighters were well dug-in.[10] The CAD and SSD teams were tasked with the finding of the high-value target during the armed conflict and that high-value target was reportedly wounded in the battle.[8] Heavy fighting ensued, and repeated assaults were beaten back by al-Qaeda fighters.[10] Pakistan Army forces suffered heavy casualties.[10]

As troops pushed into the mountains, the al-Qaeda foreign fighters launched aggressive attacks on Pakistani troops as more and more foreign fighters belonging to al-Qaeda began to join the fight.[10] The al-Qaeda foreign fighters had set up their main strategic posts at the top of the mountains allowing them to observe the movements of the Pakistan Army infantry and mountaineering troops.[11] The troops called for the air strike which was carried out by PAF F-16s and the army aviation corps, targeting the suspected posts and hidden positions of al-Qaeda fighters.[10] Following the air strikes, the infantry troops redoubled their efforts to gain control of the mountains.[11]

In the night of 18 March 2004, the army troops and foreign fighters again engage in a heavy and bloody gun battle occurred wherein infantry troops had repeatedly beaten the assaults after assaults.[9] After days of heavy and intensified fighting, the infantry troops gained the control of key positions in the mountains which the al-Qaeda fighters had previously held.[10] Sporadic fighting continued as the infantry units began to pursue the al-Qaeda foreign fighters.[10] Soon, all the strategic mountain posts were evacuated by the al-Qaeda fighters as the infantry troops had reached at the top of the mountains. By the dawn, the infantry troops with the help of 20th Mountain Brigade had taken control of mountains.[10]

In a last attempt to re-gain their territory, al-Qaeda foreign fighters planned another assault against the army at night which continued until dawn.[10] The army troops and paramilitary officers then responded with series of decisive attacks, and the battle was soon slipped to adjacent mountains as the al-Qaida foreign fighters began to escaped.[10] While both sides sustaining injuries, and next morning, al-Qaeda fighters began abandoning their positions and fleeing from the area.[12] As requested by the theater commander, additional army infantry, combat engineering and Mountain troops were rushed to help the remaining fighting troops.[12] The battle ended soon after as reinforcements arrived and took their positions.[12] With the arrival of the additional mountain troops, the army intensified its search for remaining al-Qaeda fighters.[12] A week later, the Pakistan Army captured the entire mountainous area along with hundreds of al-Qaeda foreign fighters.[12]


Tunnels were discovered at the site of the battle that led into Afghanistan, possible Tora Bora region.[13] The military consolidated its position in the area and in the country. On 20 March 2004, the ISI's CAD and Military Intelligence, and a handful unit of troops reportedly saw a mysterious "foreigner" fleeing the scene of the siege, and while positive that it was not Osama bin Laden; the Military Intelligence theorized that it may well have been Ayman al-Zawahiri,[2] since Uzbek militant Tohir Abduhalovich Yuldashev had earlier escaped to Afghanistan while hurt in a battle.[12]

It is possible that some of the (high value) suspects might have escaped through this (Kaloosha) tunnel. It has been there for quite some time. We don't know how effective was the cordon on the first night...during the suspension of military action

Brigadier-General Mahmood Shah, GOC of 20th Mountaineering Brigadesource[13]

By 23 March 23, 2004, the last fortified area was taken over by the army troops after a week of heavy and bloody battle.[13] Later, the 20th Mountain Brigade of Army took control of the mountains and sat up the well organized posts. The Army also sends its investigators from "M.I. Directorate for High Value Target Acquisition".[13] The Army incurred casualties consisting of 49 soldiers killed, 33 wounded, and 11 captured (all of whom were released on March 28, 2004); the military intelligence inflicting on the al-Qaeda losses of 55 foreign fighters killed (majority being Uzbeks and Chechens) and 149 captured.[3] Battle of Wana also led to open the unannounced war in Pakistan.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Khan, Ismail. "Al Zawahiri believed surrounded: Intensity of resistance indicates presence of high-value target, says Musharraf". Dawn March 19, 2004. Retrieved 4 July 2013. 
  2. ^ a b Ali, Rafaqat (20 March 2004). "Local people used as human shield by terrorists". Dawn News, 20 March 2004. Retrieved 4 July 2013. 
  3. ^ a b c "49 Pakistani troops dead or missing so far in Al-Qaeda offensive". 2004-03-23. Retrieved 2011-03-27. 
  4. ^ a b "Action Update: March 15–28, 2004". 2004-03-31. Retrieved 2011-03-27. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Zulfiqar Ali (March 16, 2004). "Musharraf warns against failure of Wana operation". Dawn Newspapers March 16. Retrieved 4 July 2013. 
  6. ^ "Top Al Qaeda leader hurt, hiding in Wana: ISPR". ISPR. Retrieved 4 July 2013. 
  7. ^ Khan, Ismail (13 March 2004). "Wana tribesmen fail to arrest key suspects: Operation in Afghanistan launched". Dawn News, March 13. Retrieved 4 July 2013. 
  8. ^ a b ISPR (March 28, 2004). "Top Al Qaeda leader hurt, hiding in Wana: ISPR". Dawn. Retrieved 4 July 2013. 
  9. ^ a b "Militants agree to set free hostages: Uzbek warlord hurt while fleeing". Ismail Khan Dawn. 28 March 2004. Retrieved 4 July 2013. 
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n CNN (May 6, 2004). "Pakistan: 100 fighters captured in battle". CNN. 
  11. ^ a b "Fierce battle in al Qaeda hunt". CNN (CNN Pakistan). March 17, 2004. 
  12. ^ a b c d e f Khan, Ismail (28 March 2004). "Militants agree to set free hostages: Uzbek warlord hurt while fleeing". Dawn News report by By Ismail Khan. Retrieved 4 July 2013. 
  13. ^ a b c d Bureau Report (23 March 2004). "Tunnel found in Kaloosha". Dawn , Breau Report. Retrieved 4 July 2013. 

Coordinates: 32°18′22″N 69°35′34″E / 32.3061°N 69.5928°E / 32.3061; 69.5928