Pakistani Jets Target Suspected Pakistani Taliban Hideouts in Afghanistan, Killing 8 People

ISLAMABAD (AP) -- Pakistani airstrikes targeted multiple suspected hideouts of the Pakistani Taliban inside neighboring Afghanistan early on Monday, killing at least eight people and drawing return fire from the Afghan Taliban, officials said.

The latest escalation is likely to further increase tensions between Islamabad and Kabul. The Pakistani strikes came two days after insurgents killed seven soldiers in a suicide bombing and coordinated attack in northwestern Pakistan.

The Afghan Taliban denounced the strikes as an aggression on Afghanistan's territorial integrity, saying they killed several women and children. The defense ministry in Kabul said Afghan forces later on Monday "targeted Pakistan's military centers along the border with heavy weapons," without providing details.

The Pakistani strikes were carried out in Khost and Paktika provinces bordering Pakistan, according to two Pakistani security and intelligence officials. The officials provided no further details and spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters.

Pakistan's military did not immediately comment and it was not clear how deep inside Afghanistan the Pakistani jets flew. The airstrikes were the first since 2022, when Pakistan targeted militant hideouts in Afghanistan although Islamabad never officially confirmed those strikes.

Chief Afghan Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement that Monday's airstrikes killed three women and three children in the district of Barmal in Paktika province while two other women were killed in a strike in Khost province.

"Such attacks are a violation of Afghanistan's sovereignty and there will be bad consequences," Mujahid said.

The two Pakistani officials said mortars fired by the Afghan Taliban wounded four people and that some villagers in the northwestern Kurram district were moving to safer areas late Monday. Pakistani troops fired back, the officials said.

On Saturday, seven Pakistani soldiers were killed when suicide bomber rammed his explosive-laden truck into a military post in the town of Mir Ali, a town in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province that borders Afghanistan. Troops responded and killed all six attackers in a shootout, the military said.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari attended the soldiers' funerals and vowed to retaliate, saying "the blood of our martyred soldiers will not go in vain."

The Mir Ali attack was claimed by a newly formed militant group, Jaish-e-Fursan-e-Muhammad but Pakistani security officials believed it's mainly made up of members of the Pakistani Taliban, the outlawed Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP, which often targets Pakistani soldiers and police.

Muhammad Ali, an Islamabad based security expert, said an army lieutenant colonel and a captain were among those killed in Mir Ali and that Monday's airstrikes were an obvious retaliation, coming within 24 hours of Zardari's warning.

"Pakistan's patience for the Afghan interim government's continued hospitality for terrorists conducting frequent attacks on Pakistan from inside Afghanistan has finally run out," Ali said.

Separately, the Pakistani military said security forces carried out an operation Monday in North Waziristan near the Afghan border, killing eight militants linked to Saturday's attack, but made no mention of the airstrikes inside Afghanistan.

The Afghan Taliban seized power in Afghanistan in 2021 as the U.S. and NATO troops were in the final stages of their pullout after 20 years of war. The Taliban takeover in Afghanistan emboldened the TTP, whose top leaders and fighters are hiding in Afghanistan.

The Afghan Taliban insist they do not allow the Pakistani Taliban -- or any other militant group -- to use Afghanistan's soil to launch attacks. However, the TTP has stepped up attacks inside Pakistan in recent years, straining relations between Kabul and Islamabad.

Adding to the tensions between the two countries was a move by Islamabad last year to expel Afghans living in Pakistan without valid documents. Pakistan has long hosted about 1.7 million Afghans, most of whom fled during the 1979-1989 Soviet occupation of their country. More than half a million fled Afghanistan when the Taliban seized power.

So far, Pakistan has expelled nearly half a million Afghans in the ongoing crackdown. Islamabad says Afghans who have refugee status have not been deported.

The deportations have also drawn criticism from the international community and analysts have warned that mass deportations risk radicalizing those who have been forced out of Pakistan -- often returning to deplorable conditions back in Afghanistan.

In January, Pakistani strikes -- in a tit-for-tat exchanges with Tehran -- hit Pakistani militants inside Iran, briefly raising tensions but the two neighbors. The situation calmed after Tehran and Islamabad agreed to cooperate against each other's militants.