Swat Taliban use Afghan bases to Avenge Pak Military

Taliban bases in Afghanistan (Credit: longwarjournal.com)

PESHAWAR, June 25 — A relatively rare cross-border raid into Pakistan by Afghan-based Taliban militants killed at least 13 Pakistani soldiers, the military said Monday.

Pakistani officials have long faced criticism from the Americans and Afghans for failing to stop similar militant assaults in the opposite direction, and they lashed out against their neighbors over this attack, which was in the northwestern border district of Dir.

In Islamabad, the Foreign Ministry said it had called in a senior Afghan diplomat to protest “the intrusion of militants from the Afghan side.” And the new prime minister, Raja Pervez Ashraf, said he would raise the matter with President Hamid Karzai.

A senior Pakistani military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that more than 100 Taliban militants armed with heavy weapons had crossed the border in the attack. After initially reporting six soldiers killed and 11 missing, the official later said that seven of the missing had been “reportedly killed and then beheaded.”

A Pakistani Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility for the attack and said the militants had killed 18 soldiers. “We have bodies of 17 of them,” said the spokesman, Sirajuddin, who uses only one name, speaking by phone from an undisclosed location.

Pakistani Taliban fighters fled into Afghanistan starting in the summer of 2009 after a major assault by the Pakistani military on the Swat Valley in northwestern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province.

Across the border, the militants took refuge in Kunar and Nuristan Provinces; they have since strengthened their presence in those areas as American forces have withdrawn. Pakistani officials say that two senior Taliban commanders — Maulana Fazlullah from Swat and Faqir Muhammad from Bajaur — are sheltering there, while their fighters use Afghan territory to mount attacks in Pakistan.

The most violent attack occurred in August last year when Taliban fighters killed at least 30 Pakistani soldiers along the border in the Chitral district, north of Dir. The Pakistani military has since deployed a large contingent to the area.

The situation in Dir and Chitral is the mirror opposite of that of the Waziristan tribal agency, farther west along the border, where large numbers of Pakistani, Afghan and foreign fighters train and plot attacks inside Afghanistan.

American military officials are particularly angry that the Haqqani network, which has carried out some of the most spectacular attacks in Kabul and other major cities, has an apparently free hand to operate in North Waziristan. Obama administration officials say they are unsure whether Pakistan’s powerful intelligence services are assisting such cross-border attacks, tacitly acquiescing to them or incapable of stopping them.

The Pakistani Taliban, on the other hand, are intent on attacking Pakistani forces. Sunday’s attack in Dir, the third this month, shows that, as NATO troops leave Afghanistan, the militants are using that territory to mount attacks.

Residents of Dir said the militants were operating from a base just over three miles from the border, where there is no visible Afghan or NATO presence.

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