Accessibility links

Breaking News

Pakistani Fighter Planes Bomb ‘Terrorist Sanctuaries’ in Afghanistan


FILE - A Pakistani army soldier stands guard at a border post in Ghulam Khan, North Waziristan, on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, Jan. 27, 2019.
FILE - A Pakistani army soldier stands guard at a border post in Ghulam Khan, North Waziristan, on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, Jan. 27, 2019.

Pakistan confirmed Monday that its military had carried out “intelligence-based” aerial strikes inside Afghanistan to punish “terrorists” responsible for killing hundreds of civilians and security forces in cross-border raids.

A foreign ministry statement said the counterterrorism operation had targeted fugitive commanders allied with Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP, a globally designated terrorist organization operating out of Afghan sanctuaries.

Afghanistan’s Taliban government denounced the pre-dawn strikes in the southeastern Paktika and Khost border provinces, claiming they resulted in the deaths of eight civilians, mostly women and children. The identities of the slain people could not be verified from independent sources.

“We have repeatedly urged the Afghan authorities to take concrete and effective action to ensure that the Afghan soil is not used as a staging ground for terrorism against Pakistan. We have also called on them to deny safe havens to TTP and to hand over its leadership to Pakistan,” the Pakistan Foreign Ministry stated.

It renewed Islamabad’s allegations that “certain elements among those in power” in Kabul “are actively patronizing TTP and using them as a proxy against Pakistan.” The statement urged the Taliban “to rethink the policy of siding” with foreign “terrorists” and “to make a clear choice to stand with the people of Pakistan.”

The cross-border military action apparently came in retaliation to Saturday’s high-profile militant raid against a Pakistani military base in the volatile North Waziristan border district that killed seven soldiers, including two officers.

“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan strongly condemns these attacks and calls this reckless action a violation of Afghanistan's territory,” said Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid in response to Pakistani airstrikes. He used the official title of his government, which has yet to be recognized internationally.

Mujahid denied again that the Taliban allowed Afghan soil to be used by militant groups against Pakistan or any other country.

“Pakistan should not blame Afghanistan for the lack of control, incompetence, and problems in its own territory. Such incidents can have very bad consequences, which will be out of Pakistan's control,” Mujahid warned.

Monday’s airstrikes prompted Taliban border forces to stage retaliatory fire at Pakistani outposts, sparking skirmishes across several locations along the nearly 2,600-kilometer (1616-mile) border between the two countries.

The Taliban Defense Ministry formally confirmed that its security forces targeted Pakistani positions with “heavy weapons" in response to the incursions into Afghan territory. Kabul later summoned the chief Pakistani diplomat to the foreign ministry to protest the cross-border raid.

Separately, a TTP statement claimed the airstrikes hit Pakistani refugee camps in the Afghan border area rather than its members. The claim could not be verified immediately.

Meanwhile, the Pakistani military said Monday that its troops had conducted a pre-dawn intelligence-led security operation in North Waziristan, killing eight TTP members. The slain militants included a key commander who played a role in plotting Saturday’s attack on the army base, the statement said.

Islamabad says that TTP has intensified cross-border attacks from Afghan sanctuaries since the establishment of the Taliban government in Kabul in 2021. The violence has reportedly killed about 2,000 Pakistanis, including police and military personnel, and strained relations between the two countries.

In April 2022, Pakistani fighter planes also carried out raids against TTP hideouts in Afghanistan.

Pakistan and the United Nations dispute Taliban claims they are not harboring foreign militant groups on Afghan soil.

“In the region and beyond, there are well-founded concerns over the presence of terrorist groups in Afghanistan,” Roza Otunbayeva, the head of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, told a March 6, 2024, U.N. Security Council meeting.

“It is not only Daesh that constitutes a threat but also TTP, a major concern for Pakistan, which has seen an increase in terrorist activity,” Otunbayeva said.

Daesh is an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State. Its Afghanistan-based regional IS affiliate conducts terrorist attacks on both sides of the long border between the two countries.

Last month, the U.N. Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team said in a report that al-Qaida operatives were increasingly assisting TTP militants to launch cross-border attacks. And some ruling Taliban members joined TTP, the report noted.

"Besides supplying weapons and equipment, Taliban rank and file, al-Qaida core…. assisted TTP forces in cross-border attacks… Some Taliban members also joined TTP, perceiving a religious obligation to provide support,” the U.N. report said.

Asif Durrani, Pakistan’s special representative to Afghanistan, told a seminar in Islamabad last week that up to 6,000 TTP fighters are sheltering in the neighboring country.

TTP-led violence has strained Pakistan’s relations with Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. It has prompted Islamabad to tighten border controls for Afghan travelers. In the last six months, Pakistan has deported more than 500,000 Afghans and sent them back to their home country for not possessing valid documents, fueling bilateral tensions.

Pakistani authorities have pledged to resume the deportation process in April after the ongoing Muslim fasting month of Ramadan ends.