Attacks heat up Afghan-Pakistani border
Coalition troops killed up to 150 Taliban fighters Thursday as they entered Afghanistan from Pakistan.
NATO-led forces Thursday killed up to 150 militants who were discovered infiltrating Afghanistan from Pakistan, providing what appears to be fresh proof that Taliban militants are staging their attacks from inside Pakistan's tribal zone.Skip to next paragraph
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The militants were seen gathering in Pakistan, and were subsequently tracked and targeted in the Margha Hills in Paktika, an Afghan province bordering Pakistan's restive tribal belt, according to NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
Thursday's attack is likely to bolster mounting international claims that Pakistan's tribal zone is a staging ground for attacks inside Afghanistan. Analysts in Pakistan cautioned against jumping to conclusions, saying the reports would have to be verified and the identities of the militants established. But, if true, they added, the attack offers singular proof of cross-border infiltration.
"If [Thursday's attacks are] true, Pakistan will have to take cognizance of it. Pakistan cannot just wash its hands of this," says Talat Masood, a retired Army general who is now a political analyst in Islamabad.
Those critiques have risen to a crescendo since September, when the Pakistan government signed a deal with Taliban militants in North Waziristan to return their weapons, vehicles, and fighters in return for guarantees of peace.
NATO and Afghan officials argue that the deal has failed, and has essentially carved out a sanctuary for militants inside Pakistan to plan and launch their attacks. The number of attacks inside Afghanistan, they point out, has spiked dramatically since the September truce, particularly in areas bordering the tribal zone.
"As soon as [the militants killed Thursday] infiltrated Afghanistan from Pakistan, we engaged them," says Lt. Col. Angela Billings, a spokesperson for ISAF speaking by telephone from Kabul, Afghanistan. "They were tracked over a long enough period of time where we were certain of their status [as insurgents]," says Colonel Billings, adding that the size of the group coming from Pakistan was unusually large.
Billings would not divulge what area of Pakistan the militants were seen coming from, but added that Pakistani military liaison officers were continually informed of Thursday's operation. ISAF officials were also quick to point out that the Pakistani Army's cooperation was crucial to Thursday's attack.
"Insurgents are certainly coming across from Pakistan, but the Pakistan Army engaged with its colleagues across the border – ISAF and the Afghan Army – to do something about it," says Maj. Dominic Whyte, an ISAF spokesman speaking from Kabul.
Hours after the NATO strike, Pakistani helicopter gunships attacked supply trucks used by suspected insurgents for cross-border attacks in neighboring Afghanistan, a military spokesman said Thursday. The Pakistani Army attacked in North Waziristan Province, across the border from Thursday's NATO air assault.
The strike marks the Pakistani Army's first reported attack in the North Waziristan tribal region since a controversial September peace deal between the government and pro- Taliban militants that critics say has provided a sanctuary for insurgents.
The Army, acting on intelligence provided by the US-led coalition in Afghanistan, also used mortars and artillery in the attack Wednesday night in Gurvek, in North Waziristan, spokesman Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan told The Associated Press.