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Pakistan, Afghan Troops Again Clash Along Border


There has been another exchange of fire between soldiers of Pakistan and Afghanistan along the countries' border. VOA's Benjamin Sand reports from Islamabad that ties between the two U.S. allies are strained.

The latest violence erupted Thursday morning along the border area dividing Pakistan's tribal Kurram Agency from Afghanistan's Paktia province.

Pakistani and Afghan forces exchanged mortar and small arms fire, with both sides again accusing the other of starting the incident.

Afghanistan said two of its soldiers were wounded in the violence, but neither country has reported fatalities. More serious clashes took place in the same region Sunday, and at least 13 Afghans were killed then.

Speaking to reporters in Kabul Thursday afternoon, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Afghanistan is "saddened" by the conflict, but he insisted his troops have shown restraint in the face of Pakistani aggression.

"Even when our posts were attacked with heavy artillery fire, my instruction to the Minister of Defense was defend the country, but do not resort to firing with artillery across the border," said Mr. Karzai.

The South Asian neighbors are nominal allies, but relations between the two have turned increasingly bellicose in recent months.

Both are also key allies in the U.S.-led war on terror. The recent clashes in Kurram, however, are the heaviest fighting between the two countries in several years.

There are mounting concerns that the strained relations could hamper efforts to defeat the Taleban, which is conducting a violent insurgency against the Afghan government.

The former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Ronald Neumann, was in Pakistan for official talks this week, and he stressed the need for greater cross-border cooperation.

"Afghanistan and Pakistan face common enemies, common extremism which exists on both sides of the border," he said. "A great deal has been done, Pakistan has lost many soldiers in the fight, but everybody needs to do more."

U.S. and Afghan officials say Taleban militants have established a series of bases inside Pakistan, and routinely cross the border to attack Afghan and international forces. Afghan President Karzai has accused Pakistan of tacitly supporting the insurgency.

On Wednesday, more than 1,000 Afghans, many chanting "death to Pakistan," staged a protest outside the Pakistani embassy in Kabul.

Pakistan says it has stationed more than 90,000 troops on the border in an attempt to interfere with the insurgency.

Adding to the war of words, Islamabad has accused Afghan refugees living in Pakistan of fueling regional insecurity and destabilizing both countries.

Pakistani authorities say three people were killed and at least 10 others wounded in clashes Wednesday between security forces and Afghan refugees in Southern Pakistan.

Officials say the refugees were protesting moves to demolish their camp, which has been scheduled for closing later this year.

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