WASHINGTON: U.S. and Nato forces have killed more than 100 fighters from a Pakistan-based faction of the Taliban during two weeks of stepped-up military operations along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, the Pentagon said Tuesday.
The intensified border operations have contributed to tension between the United States and Pakistan that reached a critical point last week, when U.S. forces crossed into Pakistan and mistakenly killed three Pakistani frontier forces. Pakistan closed a key border crossing used to supply fuel to U.S. forces in Afghanistan in retaliation.
Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell expressed remorse for what he called a mistake by U.S. forces and said results of a joint Nato-Afghan investigation of the incident would be released Wednesday. Morrell said U.S. and Nato forces targeted Haqqani network fighters using border areas as refuge in eastern Afghanistan. He said more than 100 were killed, and later gave a more precise figure.
The tally was an example of an increasing U.S. willingness to provide figures for enemy deaths in a counterinsurgency fight that U.S. commanders have long insisted can never be won by attrition.
“The threat is real, and though we’ve had success in killing 110 of them, there clearly are more of them out there who remain a threat to our forces,” Morrell said, adding that the Islamist fighters also battle Afghan and Pakistani forces.
The group was started by Jalaluddin Haqqani, a commander once supported by Pakistan and the U.S. during the 1980s war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Haqqani has since turned against the U.S., and American military officials have said his organization — now effectively led by his son, Sirajuddin — presents one of the greatest threats to foreign forces in Afghanistan.
Morrell said he has not heard anything to suggest the U.S. will change the way its aircraft operate along the border, although he would not discuss specific rules of engagement. “We will retain the right to defend our forces, to defend ourselves,” he said during a Pentagon press conference. “And our forces who operate on the border with Pakistan are in a very dangerous and difficult situation.” -SANA