Monday, May 14, 2007

Pakistani, Afghan troops clash at border

From the AP:

By SADAQAT JAN, Associated Press WriterSun May 13, 3:06 PM ET

Pakistani and Afghan forces exchanged fire at their rugged border Sunday in their most serious skirmish in years. Pakistan claimed it killed five Afghan soldiers, but Afghanistan said just two Afghan civilians were killed.

Tension has been running high between Afghanistan and Pakistan, both key U.S. allies, over controlling their 1,510-mile shared border and stemming the flow of Taliban and al-Qaida militants that stage cross-border attacks inside Afghanistan. Pakistan's move to fence parts of the disputed frontier has also angered Afghanistan.

Pakistan army spokesman Maj. Gen. Waheed Arshad accused the Afghan army of firing first at Pakistani border posts: "This was unprovoked and without any reason."

A Pakistan military statement said its troops returned fire and five Afghan soldiers were killed.

On the Afghan side, Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi accused Pakistani forces of crossing more than a mile into Afghanistan's Paktia province.

"Border police tried to stopped them, and the Pakistani army started firing heavy weapons toward the Afghan forces," he said.

Two students were killed, he said.

Paktia Gov. Rahmatullah Rahmat said the Afghan forces fired in self-defense after the Pakistani soldiers launched artillery rounds and troops on foot attacked a border security post Sunday morning in the province's Jaji district.

"The Pakistanis launched artillery, shot their guns, and they left behind civilian casualties in the area. It is a clear violation — crossing the border to attack Afghanistan," Rahmat said.

Azimi claimed that thousands of locals joined the Afghan forces after the clash, which he described as the worst in years between the two countries.

Pakistan later denied its forces had entered Afghan territory or that they had hit civilian targets. Pakistan also complained that Afghan forces had fired on a NATO helicopter in the area. NATO officials in Kabul could not be reached for comment.

Afghanistan accuses the government in Islamabad of harboring and helping supporters of the former Taliban regime ousted in late 2001, which Pakistan denies.

The friction between Karzai and Musharraf has been well publicized however this is this first time our allies have traded gunfire. The question is this attributable to Pakistani regulars or militia supposedly under Musharraf's control. After all Musharraf ceded that portion of the country to tribal authority over six months ago.