KABUL, Afghanistan – Afghan defense officials warned Pakistan on Sunday to stop firing rockets and heavy artillery into the northeast of the country or the military will respond with force. Pakistan denied it was responsible.
In its strongest condemnation to date, the Afghan Defense Ministry accused the Pakistani army of firing more than 300 artillery rounds and rockets into Kunar and Nuristan provinces during the past five days.
The area is a haven for hardcore insurgent groups fighting in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. U.S.-led coalition forces have a light footprint in the area and the cross-border fighting highlights NATO's struggles to pacify the remote region. It also underscores the lack of cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan against their common foes.
The ministry said an unknown number of Afghan civilians have been killed by the shelling coming from Pakistani territory. Several houses and mosques have been destroyed and hundreds of people have been displaced from their homes, the ministry said.
"Once again, the Pakistani army started firing heavy artillery and rockets over innocent Afghan people from the other side of the Durand Line," the statement said, referring to the disputed 19th century demarcation between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Pakistan army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said he had asked security officials in the area of the reported shelling about the allegations and was waiting for a reply. He said those officials were surprised by the accusations since no activity had been reported in the area.
"I assume this is not correct news," said Abbas, in reference to the Afghan reports.
Pakistan complained earlier this summer that militants coming from Afghanistan killed at least 55 members of its security forces and tribal police and demanded that U.S. and Afghan forces do more to stem the flow of fighters.
Afghan defense officials said that according to their forces on the ground, more than 100 rockets or mortars rained down on the two provinces Saturday night.
"It's a clear attack on civilian residential areas," the ministry statement said.
"The Afghan Defense Ministry is strongly condemning the attack and is giving strong warnings that such violations (of sovereignty) will have their effect on the brotherly, friendly relations of two neighboring countries," the statement said. "There is no reason for continuing such attacks. The Pakistan government should know that Afghan National Army, with the support of the Afghan people, is ready to respond if such attacks continues."
Pakistan is also under heavy criticism from the United States.
The top U.S. military officer, Adm. Mike Mullen, last week accused Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency of supporting insurgents in planning and executing a 22-hour assault on the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan on Sept. 13 as well as a truck bomb days earlier that wounded 77 American troops.
Senior Pakistani officials have lashed out against the allegations of support for the Haqqani network, accusing the U.S. of trying to make Pakistan a scapegoat for its troubled war in Afghanistan. The public confrontation has plunged the already troubled U.S.-Pakistan alliance to new lows.
Pakistan's leaders have shown no indication that they plan to act on renewed American demands to attack the Haqqani network in its main base in Pakistan, even at the risk of further conflict with Washington. The U.S. has given Pakistan billions of dollars in military and economic aid, but the relationship has been riven by mistrust.
Also in the east of Afghanistan, the U.S.-led coalition said two NATO service members were killed Sunday in separate roadside bombings, and a suicide bomber on a motorbike detonated explosives at a local police headquarters building, killing four people in Paktika province.
In the south, Afghan police shot and killed two men wearing explosives vests, foiling a planned suicide attack on a government building in Zabul province.
The deaths of two NATO service members raised to 442 the number of international troops killed in Afghanistan so far this year. The coalition did not disclose further details about their deaths.
In the capital, Kabul, President Hamid Karzai met with his national security team and appointed a panel of high-ranking officials, led by Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak, to investigate the assassination of former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, who headed the nation's peace council.
Karzai said Rabbani's death was a "big loss" and that greater security measures should be taken to protect top Afghan figures, including religious clerics and tribal leaders. Intelligence officials at the meeting said one person had been arrested in connection with the assassination and that authorities were close to ascertaining the details of the killing.