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Pakistan's rocket fire into Afghanistan alarms locals, US forces

Pakistan has fired about 700 rockets and artillery shells at militants in Afghanistan, complicating the efforts of US forces on the ground.

By Correspondent / July 11, 2011

Afghan women protesters march during a demonstration in Jalalabad, Afghanistan on Monday, July 11. Hundreds of protesters marching peacefully in Jalalabad shout anti-Pakistan and American slogans in protest against the weeks of cross-border shelling of two eastern provinces.

Rahmat Gul/AP

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Kunar Province, Afghanistan

Just when it seemed like the situation couldn’t be any more complicated for NATO soldiers in Afghanistan, Pakistan added another layer to the war by launching cross-border attacks on militants.

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Dozens of Afghan civilians have been killed or injured by the artillery fire and at least one round landed about 2.5 miles from an American base a few weeks ago. One illumination round fired over an American patrol at night compromised their position.

While Afghan and US officials are in talks with Pakistan to end the strikes on militants, US soldiers experiencing the direct effects of the artillery fire are caught in an uncomfortable middle ground. Commanders say the longer it takes to find a solution, the greater the risk of fueling the insurgency and alienating locals from the Afghan government.

“That’s my biggest concern, that this Pakistani issue will just increase militancy among the population,” says US Army Capt. Michael Kolton, who commands the Bravo company in the 2-27 Infantry Battalion in Kunar.

In recent weeks, Afghan government officials estimate that more than 700 Pakistani rockets and artillery rounds have been fired at targets on the Afghan side of the border. Although some rounds have killed civilians, the Pakistanis are likely targeting insurgents who have carried out attacks inside Pakistan and take refuge in the mountains of Afghanistan.

“It’s important that the [American and Pakistani] units talk to each other across the border. We have common goals,” says US Army Lt. Col. Dan Wilson, commander of the 2-27 Infantry battalion.

Hurdles for communication

The US military has been working to establish communication with its Pakistani military counterparts, but has faced a number of difficulties. Given the tense state of US relations with Pakistan, high-level coordination can be a loaded issue and involves a considerable process.

“There are bureaucratic lanes that have to be executed in order to do those things, but we’re closing the gaps on those things to try to make it more efficient for us,” says Maj. Pat Stitch. He oversees brigade operations for the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division. “It’s not as if you can just drive over there and hunt down the first guy you see in uniform and say, ‘Hey, what’s your boss’s phone number?’ There’s a little more to it than that.”

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