Pakistan attacks militants near Afghan border

June 3, 2011 - 7:42 AM
Pakistan

Pakistani army troops patrol in Jhanda, in Pakistan's Mohmand tribal region along the Afghan border, Wednesday, June 1, 2011. A top Pakistani army commander said that the military has no imminent plans to launch an offensive in the North Waziristan tribal region, home to numerous militants who focus on attacking U.S. and NATO forces in neighboring Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Anjum Naveed)

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistani helicopters and artillery on Friday forced back militants who crossed over from Afghanistan this week and triggered battles that have killed at least 63 people, an official said. The incursion prompted Islamabad to demand that NATO and Afghan troops do more to control insurgents on their side of the long, porous border.

Up to 400 militants are said to have infiltrated into Pakistan's Upper Dir region from Afghanistan's Kunar province on Wednesday. They attacked a security checkpoint, villages and schools, according to the Pakistani government.

Regional administrator Ghulam Mohammad Khan said the militants were retreating Friday, and Pakistani troops were still attacking them in Nustrat Darra district.

As of Thursday night, 25 soldiers, 35 militants and three civilians had died in the clashes, Khan said. He had no information about casualties from Friday's fighting,

The militant attack and Pakistan's reaction contradicted the usual U.S. narrative about the poorly defined boundary that runs through rough country for about 1,600 miles (2,600 kilometers). Typically, militant cross-border movements originate in Pakistan, leaving the United States and NATO to complain to Islamabad over its failure to stop the infiltration into Afghanistan.

This time the situation was reversed.

The new battles found Pakistan the aggrieved party, lending credence to Pakistani army commanders' complaints that NATO was failing to crack down on militants sheltering on the Afghan side of the rugged region.

A Pakistani government statement late Thursday said the foreign secretary had "stressed the need for stern action by the Afghan army, U.S. and NATO/ISAF forces in the area against militants and their hideouts in Afghanistan and against organizational support for the militants."

Beyond emphasizing the difficulties of fighting an enemy that pays no attention to borders, the battle hints at challenges ahead for the U.S. and Pakistan when Washington begins withdrawing troops from Afghanistan later this year. Pakistan maintains that NATO already doesn't have enough troops along the Afghan side of the border.

In the past, NATO and Pakistani forces have staged coordinated "hammer and anvil" operations against militants on the border, but relations between Washington and Islamabad have hit a particularly rough patch, especially since the unilateral American raid in Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden on May 2.

Even so, NATO officials say that border cooperation has not suffered as a result of the chill in ties.