Afghanistan retaliates after Pakistani air strikes kill 8

AFP , Monday 18 Mar 2024

Eight civilians were killed Monday in "reckless" air strikes by Pakistan's military in the border regions of Afghanistan, prompting Afghan forces to retaliate against Pakistani military outposts, Taliban officials said.

Pakistani airstrikes
File Photo: Pakistani airstrikes targeted multiple suspected hideouts of Pakistani Taliban inside Afghanistan early Monday, two days after insurgents killed seven soldiers in a suicide bombing and coordinated attacks in the northwest, two security officials said. AP)


Border tensions between the two countries have steadily escalated since the Taliban government seized power in 2021, with Islamabad claiming militant groups are carrying out regular attacks from Afghanistan.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said Pakistani aircraft "bombed civilian homes" in Khost and Paktika provinces near the border with Pakistan at around 3:00 am (2230 GMT Sunday), adding that all of the dead were women and children.

Afghanistan's defense ministry said its border forces retaliated by targeting Pakistan's military posts along the border with "heavy weapons".

Cross-border skirmishes in the region were reported by both sides on Monday, the latest in a string of incidents on the disputed frontier.

The Taliban government "strongly condemns these attacks and calls this reckless action a violation of Afghanistan's sovereignty", Mujahid said in his statement.

"Such incidents can have very bad consequences which will be out (of) Pakistan's control."

Pakistan's foreign ministry confirmed on Monday it had carried out "anti-terrorist operations in the border regions inside Afghanistan".

It said in a statement it was targeting the Hafiz Gul Bahadur group, one of several factions of the homegrown Pakistani Taliban, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), that are responsible for a surge in border violence against police and security officials.

The strikes prompted a call from the United States for Pakistan, once a key ally in its war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, to "exercise restraint".

"We urge the Taliban to ensure that terrorist attacks are not launched from Afghan soil and we urge Pakistan to exercise restraint and ensure civilians are not harmed in their counterterrorism efforts," State Department spokesman Vedant Patel told reporters.

Drones and jets 

Malak Noor Khan, a tribal elder in the Sperah district of Khost, said he saw at least four explosives dropped from drones and jets and that multiple homes were destroyed, one with a woman and her children inside.

"When the drone came first, we all, including women and children, left our homes and went into the trees on the mountainside, it was very cold as there was snow on the ground," he told AFP.

A local government official in Pakistan's border regions, who asked not to be identified, told AFP residents had been instructed to evacuate the area during the skirmishes.

Islamabad has accused Kabul's Taliban government of harboring militant fighters, allowing them to strike on Pakistani soil with impunity.

Kabul has denied the allegations.

In the first half of 2023, attacks rose by 80 percent, with 112 people killed in August, according to the Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies.

A senior government official based in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, who asked not to be identified, told AFP that, despite repeated complaints, "Afghanistan does not seem to be taking the matter seriously".

Regional analyst Saira Aqil said that, while increased attacks in Pakistan are "prompting inevitable retaliation", the country "cannot afford to lose Afghanistan as an ally".

'We will respond' 

The Afghan foreign ministry said in a statement posted on X it had summoned the head of the Pakistani embassy in Kabul to protest against Monday's strikes.

It called on Pakistan's new government to "not allow some circles to complicate the relationship between two neighboring Muslim countries", an apparent reference to certain Pakistani military leaders.

The Pakistan foreign ministry, in turn, said that "certain elements among those in power in Afghanistan are actively patronizing TTP and using them as a proxy against Pakistan", urging them "to make a clear choice to stand with the people of Pakistan".

Monday's strikes came after seven Pakistani troops were killed in an attack by an armed group inside Pakistan's territory on Saturday, for which President Asif Ali Zardari vowed retaliation.

"Pakistan has decided that whoever will enter our borders, homes or country and commit terror, we will respond to them strongly, regardless of who it is or from which country," he said while attending the funeral prayers of the soldiers.

A Pakistani military statement said security forces also carried out an operation overnight Sunday in the North Waziristan district, which borders Khost and Paktika, killing eight militants accused of being involved in Saturday's attack.

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