Afghan troops backed by Western air power reportedly have killed at least 60 insurgents near the Pakistani border in some of the heavily fighting in recent years, Afghan security officials said on Wednesday. The clashes in eastern Paktika province allegedly involve the Taliban-linked Haqqani network, which has sanctuaries in Pakistan's tribal areas.
Afghan officials claim that as many as 300 Haqqani insurgents, including suicide bombers, attacked military posts in the border district of Zirok late Monday to try to capture its central town. But they say Afghan security forces repulsed the offensive with the support of international air strikes, inflicting heavy casualties on the Haqqani fighters.
International forces in Afghanistan have not yet commented on the fighting.
In a phone call with VOA, Mokhlis Afghan, a spokesman for the provincial governor, said, “Afghan security forces also received [NATO] air support. More than 60 insurgents, including foreign insurgents, were killed and wounded in these airstrikes.”
The clashes also killed four Afghan security force members and wounded several others, Afghan said.
The Haqqani network poses a serious security challenge to Afghan stability after foreign troops withdraw from the country later this year. It has been blamed for deadly attacks against U.S.-led international forces and diplomatic missions and, as Reuters reports, for assaults on Kabul hotels popular with foreigners.
The United States blacklisted the Haqqani network in 2012. The U.S. has accused Pakistan’s intelligence agency, ISI, of helping the group plan cross-border attacks.
Haqqani militants have strong bases in the Pakistani tribal district of North Waziristan. U.S. officials have lately intensified efforts against the Haqqani network on both sides of the border.
Most of the controversial U.S. drone strikes in recent years have targeted suspected Haqqani militants in the Waziristan region. The stepped-up efforts appeared to be a response to Pakistan’s reluctance to undertake military offensives against the militant group.