PESHAWAR/ISLAMABAD - The clashes between the military and Taliban militants in tribal belt have spilled over into neighbouring Afghanistan as a cross-border skirmish on Saturday left a soldier and several militants dead across the rugged frontier dividing the two countries.
One soldier and 16 militants were killed when the Taliban insurgents launched a major attack from Afghanistan side, triggering hours-long gunbattle at the border post.
A Pakistani security official said around 200 militants gathered at the village Ghund in Kunar province of Afghanistan and launched the attack at 5:15 am (local time) at a group of Pakistani military border posts at Nao Top in Bajaur tribal district.
The army responded to the attack, resulting in the fierce gunbattle which continued for several hours. The army said 16 militants were killed while one soldier embraced martyrdom and two others were critically injured.
“Attack was effectively repulsed after the fierce fighting,” the official said. The injured are being evacuated, he added.
Nobody claimed responsibility for the attack but military said the attackers were from Bajaur and Swat areas. They are loyal to Taliban top leader Maulana Fazlullah who is hiding in Kunar since 2009 after escaping a military action in Swat.
In the fierce fighting that followed, helicopter gunships were sent in. But Shuja ul-Mulk Jalala, governor of Afghanistan’s Kunar province, alleged the gunships crossed into Afghan territory. He claimed four civilians were killed in the firing.
Cross-border militant attacks have led to significant tension between the neighbouring countries, and emotions were high in Kabul’s parliament Saturday.
Afghan Defence Minister General Bismillah Khan Mohammadi told his country’s lawmakers that the army was ready to retaliate, but would not make a move without being ordered by Kabul’s civilian government.
Mohammadi said President Hamid Karzai had called him to ask for details on the helicopter strikes.
He said there was no doubt that last night the Taliban attacked Pakistani army posts. It was not possible to independently confirm any of the statements due to the remoteness and inaccessibility of the area.
The minister said President Karzai had ordered the Afghan military to retaliate if the attacks inside the Afghan border continued. This is the first attack on the Pakistani army since the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) split into factions, with the Mehsud tribesmen parting ways from the main group.
In a related development, Pakistan on Saturday lodged strong protest with Afghan Charge d’Affaires regarding the attack on Pakistan military post at Nao Top by terrorists who crossed over to Pakistan from Afghanistan side.
The matter was also taken up by Pakistan Ambassador in Kabul with Afghan Foreign Ministry wherein it was clarified that no shelling from Pakistan side was made on the civilians inside Afghanistan, a statement issued by the Foreign Office said. It further added “To repulse the terrorist attack Pakistani troops responded with artillery and aviation support and only attacking terrorists were targeted.”
“We hope effective steps would be taken to prevent recurrence of such incidents. For its part, Pakistan would continue to exercise restraint and make efforts to maintain conducive environment for constructive engagement. We remain committed to maintaining a tranquil border especially in the run-up to second round of Afghan elections,” the statement concluded.