21 killed in air strikes along Afghan border

June 01, 2014 - 12:52:52 am

ISLAMABAD: Taliban fighters attacked several Pakistani military posts along the Afghan border yesterday, sparking an hours-long gun battle that included Pakistan launching air strikes into Afghanistan, authorities said. Pakistan said soldiers killed 16 militants, while Afghan officials said the air strikes killed five civilians.

Two Pakistani military officers blamed the local Pakistani Taliban for the attack, saying dozens of fighters from the group crossed into Pakistan overnight to stage the attack.

The insurgents attacks at least two military checkpoints in the northwestern tribal region of Bajur, killing one soldier and wounding two others, local government official Shah Naseem said. 

Naseem said the heavily armed attackers also targeted several military posts in the border village of Nao Top, about 50km northwest of Khar, the main town in Bajur. The army responded, sending helicopter gunships into battle as troops chased the attackers.

The assault killed 16 insurgents, the two army officers said. The attackers then fled toward Afghanistan, the officers said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to talk to journalists.

The officers said their intelligence suggested the attack local Pakistani Taliban fighters launched the attack. They said the fighters, originally from the Bajur tribal region and the northwestern Swat Valley, have been hiding in the village of Ghund in neighbouring Afghanistan’s Kunar province.

Gen Abdul Habib Sayedkhaili, the provincial police chief of Kunar province, said two Pakistani helicopters crossed into his country and opened fire in Dangam district. Their attack killed five Afghan civilians and wounded 10, Sayedkhaili said. 

Sayedkhaili said Pakistani forces fired mortar shells into Afghanistan throughout the day yesterday. He added that 124 rockets had landed in the province yesterday alone.

Afghanistan and Pakistan share a 2,250km border and militants from both sides routinely launched cross-border attacks before fleeing back into their other country. The border area is remote and off limits to reporters, making it difficult to independently confirm information about fighting or military operations in the tribal regions.

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has made negotiations with the Taliban a centerpiece of his government. Supporters of the peace talks argue that negotiations are the only way to end the cycle of violence while critics say a deal will only strengthen militant ranks, allow them to regroup and strike back with more force.

Mortar attacks and other military operations routinely strain relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Afghanistan says hundreds of rockets and bombs have landed in Afghan villages close to the border since the offensive began 11 days ago. Anger over the strikes prompted Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai on Wednesday to demand the Pakistani government take action to stop its military killing Afghan civilians.

Pakistan said the airstrikes had targeted Taliban militants conducting attacks on Pakistani soil from across the Afghan border, but agreed to investigate claims that civilians had been killed.

In turn, Afghanistan has long accused Pakistan of sheltering the Afghan Taliban on its territory.

In a separate incident in eastern Ghazni province, a roadside bomb has hit two cars, killing 12 civilians. The casualties were all civilians including seven women, three children and two men, an official said. Afghan forces have stepped up security operations ahead of the second round of the presidential election on June 14.