ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - At least 10 Pakistani soldiers were killed on the Pakistani side of the Afghan border as U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan battled militants infiltrating into Afghanistan, a security official said on Wednesday.
The soldiers were killed at a border post in the Mohmand region, opposite Afghanistan’s Kunar province, late on Tuesday.
The incident comes as concern has been rising in Kabul and among Western forces fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan about Pakistani efforts to negotiate peace pacts to end militant violence on its side of the border.
“The militants launched a cross-border attack into Afghanistan. At least 10 of our soldiers were killed in a counter-offensive by forces in Afghanistan,” said a senior Pakistani security official who declined to be identified.
The official did not say if the forces battling militants on the Afghan side were from NATO or a separate U.S. force.
He also did not say how the Pakistani soldiers were killed, but residents said they were believed to have been killed in an air strike.
Government officials in the area said about 40 soldiers were at the post in Suran Dara, about 30 km (20 miles) northwest of Mohmand’s main town of Ghalanai, and they had no information about the others.
Neither Pakistani military spokesmen nor NATO spokesmen in Afghanistan were available for comment. A U.S. military spokesman in Afghanistan referred queries to the U.S. embassy in Islamabad, which had no comment.
A spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban said they attacked U.S. and Afghan forces as they were setting up a position on the Pakistani side of the border.
“American planes bombed the area and eight Taliban were killed and nine wounded,” the militant spokesman, Maulvi Omar, said by telephone.
He said he had heard that U.S. aircraft had bombed a nearby Pakistani post, killing up to 25 soldiers, while the Taliban had captured seven Afghan troops and shot down a helicopter.
Mohmand has not been a hotbed of support for al Qaeda and the Taliban but militants, who have been extending their influence in northwest Pakistan, are known to operate there.
A new Pakistani government has been negotiating with elders of ethnic Pashtun tribes to get them to press militants in their areas to give up a campaign of violence in Pakistan in which hundreds of people have been killed over the past year.
The government, which came to power after supporters of staunch U.S. ally President Pervez Musharraf were defeated in a February election, is led by the party of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was killed in a suicide attack in December.
But Afghanistan and its Western allies say peace pacts in northwest Pakistan’s border regions enable militants to step up cross-border attacks from Pakistani sanctuaries.
Many al Qaeda and Taliban militants took refuge on the Pakistani side of the border after U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001.
Pakistan supported the Taliban until the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, when it threw its support behind the U.S.-led campaign against terrorism.
Despite that, Pakistan has been unable to shake off suspicion that elements within its security forces are helping the Taliban, or at least turning a blind eye as the militants organize their insurgency from Pakistan.
Pakistan denies the accusations, saying it has lost about 1,000 soldiers battling militants in border mountains that have never come under the control of any government.
Additional reporting by Shams Mohmand; Writing by Zeeshan Haider; Editing by Robert Birsel and Alex Richardson