Militants enter Pakistan, attack border villages

Published 6:17 pm Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Hundreds of militants crossed into Pakistan from Afghanistan on Wednesday and attacked several border villages, triggering shootouts with local militias in which at least two people were killed, police said.

It was the latest in a spate of such cross-border attacks, which have raised tensions between Kabul and Islamabad and undermined efforts on both sides to crack down on al-Qaida and the Taliban.

Pakistan has complained that militants coming from Afghan bases have killed at least 55 members of the security forces and tribal police over the last month. Afghan officials have complained that Pakistan has launched hundreds of rockets into eastern Afghanistan since May, killing at least 40 people.

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Paramilitary troops and police were sent to the villages attacked Wednesday in Upper Dir district to help armed Pakistani tribesmen there who trying to fend off the insurgents, local police official Gul Fazal Khan said.

The security forces killed three militants and captured three others during the fighting, said Ghulam Mohammed, a top government official in Upper Dir. Two members of a militia fighting the militants were killed and two others wounded, he added.

Information from the area is difficult to verify independently because it is remote and dangerous.

Hundreds of militants staged a similar cross-border attack against villages in Upper Dir on June 1, sparking three days of fighting that killed at least 25 soldiers and three civilians, according to local officials.

Pakistan has pressed Afghanistan to do more to control its side of the border and prevent insurgents from crossing. It also blames the U.S. for the recent attacks after many American forces pulled out of Afghanistan’s eastern Kunar province over the last year to focus on more populated areas.

The Pakistani army denies it has intentionally fired rockets into Afghanistan, but acknowledges that several rounds fired at militants conducting cross-border attacks may have landed over the border.

Also Wednesday, a rare gun battle broke out between the army and militants in the North Waziristan tribal area after the insurgents attacked a military convoy heading toward the Afghan border, said intelligence officials. The firefight started around 11 a.m. and was still going on in mid-afternoon, when the army called in helicopter gunships for support, the officials said.

Four militants and one civilian were killed in the crossfire, and 10 other people were wounded, including five army troops, four militants and one civilian. The officials giving the toll spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

North Waziristan is the main sanctuary for Taliban and al-Qaida militants in Pakistan and also hosts a base for more than 30,000 Pakistani soldiers, but clashes between the two groups are rare.

The U.S. has been pushing Pakistan to launch an offensive in North Waziristan to target fighters from the Haqqani network, a militant group that routinely stages cross-border attacks against NATO troops in Afghanistan. But Pakistan has resisted, saying its troops are stretched too thin by operations in other areas along the border.

Many analysts believe Pakistan is hesitant to target the Haqqanis because of historical ties and because they could be useful allies in Afghanistan after foreign forces withdraw.

North Waziristan also hosts many Pakistani Taliban fighters who have declared war against the Pakistani state and have carried out many attacks against security forces and civilians throughout the country.

It is unclear which group was fighting with the army on Wednesday.

Elsewhere in Pakistan, authorities in the southern port city of Karachi recovered the bodies of five people who were apparently abducted from a public bus and later shot to death. The killings raise the death toll in Karachi to 23 over the past two days, said Sharfuddin Memon, the security adviser for Sindh province where Karachi is located.

Karachi has a long history of political, ethnic and criminal violence, and many people are killed by gangs allegedly affiliated with political parties in the city. It is unclear how many of killings over the past two days were politically motivated.