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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.

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Given the sensitivity of the issue, military officers are hesitant to speak about the issue in detail, however, the problem of coordination is likely more a bureaucratic challenge at this phase. The Monitor was able to find the phone numbers of Pakistani Army officers involved in shooting artillery into Afghanistan within several hours by making calls to people in Pakistan. The officers declined to comment on the issue because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

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For US soldiers, the rounds pose less of a tactical threat and more of a political threat. Numerous Afghan villagers and officials have expressed complaints and concerns to US forces in the area, calling on them to take action.

“It’s not that big on our minds here, but it’s definitely big on everyone else’s minds,” say US Army Lt. Jonathan Brown, a platoon leader in the 2-27 Infantry battalion.

When the rounds initially began falling, soldiers in Kunar were quick to communicate with villagers that they were not responsible to avoid allegations of NATO-caused civilian causalities. When villagers accepted this, US soldiers say villagers approached them demanding that the US Army use its resources to get revenge for them by attacking Pakistan.

Renewing patience

As Afghan politicians have made it clear that they are addressing the issue through diplomatic channels, there appears to be renewed patience among locals.

When rounds began landing in Isalam Khan’s small village in Kunar’s Chigal Valley, one killed three children. He walked more than two hours to another village he thought would be safe, however, rounds soon began landing there, as well. At first some of the villagers wanted military action, but now they say it is better to try to resolve the issue through diplomacy.

“The fruit for tolerance is sweet, so let’s wait and see what happens. I don’t want there to be fighting in our area, so I’d be happy if they peacefully solve the problem,” says Mr. Khan.

As the US military continues its operations despite the shelling, the consequences of not finding a solution loom large. At stake is the Afghan government’s reputation, something the US military is working to improve. The issue is easily one that can be exploited by insurgents for both recruitment and destabilizing relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan, say American military officers.

“What’s impossible to tell is: is it the Pakistani military doing it or are the insurgents firing mortars or something because they realize that’s a friction point between the two countries and they’re trying to just widen the gap?” says Lt. Colonel Wilson.

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