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Afghanistan Retaliates Against Pakistan After Air Strikes Kill Eight

Eight civilians were killed Monday in “reckless” air strikes by Pakistan’s military in the border regions of Afghanistan, prompting Afghan forces to retaliate against Pakistani military outposts, Taliban officials said.

Border tensions between the two countries have risen since the Taliban government seized power in 2021, with Islamabad claiming militant groups are carrying out regular attacks from Afghanistan.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said Pakistani aircraft “bombed civilian homes” in Khost and Paktika provinces near the border with Pakistan at around 3:00 am (2230 GMT Sunday), adding that all of the dead were women and children.

Afghanistan’s defense ministry said its border forces retaliated in response to the airstrikes, targeting Pakistan’s military points along the disputed border with “heavy weapons.”

“The country’s defense and security forces are ready to respond to any aggressive actions and will defend their territorial integrity at all cost,” spokesman Enayatullah Khwarizmi said on social media platform X.

Both sides reported cross-border skirmishes in the region into Monday afternoon, the latest in a string of such incidents on the disputed frontier.

The Taliban government “strongly condemns these attacks and calls this reckless action a violation of Afghanistan’s sovereignty,” Mujahid said in his statement.

“Such incidents can have very bad consequences which will be out (of) Pakistan’s control.”

Drones and Jets

Malak Noor Khan, a tribal elder in the Sperah district of Khost, said he saw at least four explosives dropped from drones and jets and that multiple homes were destroyed, one with a woman and her children inside.

“When the drone came first, we all, including women and children, left our homes and went into the trees on the mountainside, it was very cold as there was snow on the ground,” he told AFP.

“All those targeted are refugees from Waziristan, they are not militants, they are not terrorists,” he said.

Large numbers of civilians fled Waziristan in 2014 when the Pakistani military launched an operation to wipe out militant bases in the tribal areas, many crossing over the border into Afghanistan.

A local government official in Pakistan’s border regions, who asked not to be named, told AFP residents had been instructed to evacuate the area amid the skirmishes.

“Announcements have been made in mosques to empty some areas in Kurram and North Waziristan as clashes between Pakistan and Afghanistan continue on and off at the border,” he added.

Increasing Militancy

Areas along the border have long been a stronghold for militant groups such as Pakistan’s home-grown Taliban group Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which has increased its attacks on Pakistani security forces in the porous border regions.

Islamabad has accused Kabul’s Taliban government of harboring TTP fighters, allowing them to strike on Pakistani soil with impunity. Kabul has denied the allegations.

A senior government official based in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, who asked not to be named, told AFP that despite repeated complaints, “Afghanistan does not seem to be taking the matter seriously.”

Regional analyst Saira Aqil said that while increased attacks in Pakistan are “prompting inevitable retaliation,” the country “cannot afford to lose Afghanistan as an ally.”

“Pakistan must bear this in mind, as maintaining a friendly relationship with Afghanistan presents greater opportunities than having them as an adversary,” added Aqil, a professor at the defense and strategic studies department of Quaid I Azam University in Islamabad.

The Afghan foreign ministry said it had summoned the head of the Pakistani embassy in Kabul to protest Monday’s strikes in a statement posted on X.

It called on Pakistan’s new government to “not allow some circles to complicate the relationship between two neighbouring Muslim countries” — an apparent reference to certain Pakistani military leaders.

In 2022, Taliban authorities said Pakistani military helicopters carried out strikes along the Afghan side of the border that killed at least 47 people, including 20 children.

Monday’s strikes came after seven Pakistani troops were killed in an attack by an armed group inside Pakistan’s territory on Saturday, for which the country’s President Asif Ali Zardari vowed retaliation.

“Pakistan has decided that whoever will enter our borders, homes or country and commit terror, we will respond to them strongly, regardless of who it is or from which country,” he said while attending the funeral prayers of the soldiers, who included a lieutenant colonel.

A Pakistani military statement said security forces also carried out an operation overnight Sunday in North Waziristan district, which borders Khost and Paktika, killing eight militants accused of being involved in Saturday’s attack.

The TTP issued a statement denying that Monday’s strikes targeted the group, saying their members operate from within Pakistan.

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