ASAD ABAD, Afghanistan: Up to 33 police and five civilians were killed in fighting after Taliban crossed over from Pakistan and attacked a remote region in eastern Afghanistan, an official said Wednesday.
Nuristan provincial governor Jamaluddin Badr said about 40 rebels also died in the two days of clashes that followed weeks of tit-for-tat allegations of cross-border attacks that have fanned diplomatic tensions.
But the interior ministry contradicted the toll and said 12 policemen had died and another five were wounded.
Dozens of rebels who began crossing the border from Pakistan on Tuesday triggered the fight, Badr told AFP, attacking police posts in the Kamdesh district of Nuristan.
“The report we have now from the area is that 33 border police and five civilians, two of them women, have been killed,” he said.
He said most of the dead rebels were Pakistan Taliban.
The interior ministry said that “dozens” of rebels were killed in a clearance operation that lasted several hours, 12 of them Pakistanis.
“The situation in the border areas of Kamdesh district has returned to normal and police are strengthening their positions,” it said.
The escalating conflict in the rugged border zone between Afghanistan and Pakistan has forced more than 200 Afghan families to flee so far, according to local officials, and is escalating tensions between the uneasy neighbours.
For weeks, security forces on both sides of the unmarked border have issued claim and counter-claim over cross-border rocket and guerrilla attacks that have reportedly killed dozens of villagers and terrified hundreds of others.
Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani called Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Wednesday to convey “serious” concern over cross-border incursions by militants, his office said.
“The prime minister expressed Pakistan's serious concern over the activities of the militants along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, especially in Dir, Bajaur (and) Mohmand on the Pakistan side and Kunar on the Afghan side,” an official statement said.
It said Gilani told Karzai the situation needed “to be defused quickly”.
The call came after Pakistani officials accused several hundred militants of infiltrating and attacking a village in the Pakistani district of Upper Dir, killing an anti-Taliban elder and setting fire to three schools.
“The village militia and Pakistan troops are retaliating,” district police chief Mir Qasim Khan told AFP.
The rise in violence in an area swamped with Taliban and al Qaeda-linked fighters underscores the problems faced in attempts to forge contacts between militants and regional power brokers and peacefully resolve a decade of war.
US troops earlier this year abandoned their easternmost outposts in the furthest reaches of Kunar and Nuristan provinces and since then insurgents have flooded back into Afghan valleys by the border, analysts say.
Afghan officials say about 800 rockets; mortars and artillery shells have been fired from Pakistan into Afghan villages since late May, leaving dozens of civilians dead, injured or displaced.
The Pakistan army denies it has targeted Afghan territory, saying that a few stray rounds may have crossed the border and complaining that villages on its side of the border have themselves been the victim of Afghan-based Taliban violence.
In Afghanistan, the top border police commander for the eastern region, General Aminullah Amerkhail, has resigned in protest at Kabul's reluctance to respond with counter-attacks, and ministers have reacted with fury.
President Hamid Karzai has appealed for calm over the issues, but expressed “deep concerns” to Pakistan's top commander General Ashfaq Kayani and Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari in a recent meeting.