ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s military clashes with Taliban militants have spilled over its northwest border into neighboring Afghanistan. The cross-border skirmish has left civilians, militants and military forces dead across the rugged frontier dividing the two countries.
Pakistani military sources say its forces repulsed a major militant attack Saturday morning, killing 16 terrorists in the fighting. One soldier also died and two others were injured.
The sources said between 150 and 200 Taliban militants from Afghanistan’s Kunar province swarmed over the border in a pre-dawn strike and attacked a group of Pakistani military border posts at Nao Top, in Pakistan’s northwest Bajur tribal district.
Bajur is directly across from Afghanistan’s Kunar province.
The Pakistani military sources said in the fierce fighting that followed, helicopter gunships were sent in.
But Shuja ul-Mulk Jalala, governor of Afghanistan’s Kunar province, said the gunships crossed into Afghan territory. He said four civilians were killed in the firing.
He says, the bombardment began this morning around 7:45 in the Rega area of Dangam district in Kunar province, and continued until 10:30 am. He says four civilians were killed and 10 others were wounded in the bombing.
Pakistan did not comment on whether its forces had crossed the border. Pakistani Taliban militants often take refuge inside Afghanistan.
Cross border militant attacks have led to significant tension between the neighboring countries, and emotions were high in Kabul’s parliament Saturday.
Afghan Defense 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 says, there is no doubt that last night the Taliban attacked Pakistani army posts. It was the Pakistani Taliban on the border with Dangam.
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.
On Wednesday, Kabul summoned Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan to lodge a strong protest over rocket and artillery fire from the Pakistani side.
Islamabad has denied it is shelling civilian Afghan areas, and says its forces only hit locations that are launching attacks against Pakistani forces.
In a separate incident, some 12 Afghan civilians died in twin roadside bombings in central-eastern Ghazni province.
Ayaz Gul contributed to this report from Islamabad.