PESHAWAR: Hundreds of militants crossed the Afghan border Saturday and attacked three security checkpoints in northwestern Pakistan, killing 26 paramilitary soldiers and police, officials said.
It was the latest of a series of attacks that Pakistani officials say have been launched from an area of eastern Afghanistan where the US has largely pulled out its troops.
The raids have increased tension between Pakistan, Afghanistan and the US.
Armed with heavy weapons, the militants seized control of a local village after attacking the security checkpoints in Chitral district, said local police official Nizam Khan. Pakistani forces responded to the raid and killed nine insurgents, he said.
But fighting was still ongoing Saturday afternoon, and Pakistani troops have called in helicopter gunships to drive the militants back across the border, said Maj. Ghulam Rasool, a member of the paramilitary forces.
The militants chanted ''God is great!'' and ''Long live jihad!'' as they fought, said Capt. Abdul Ghani, another member of the paramilitary forces.
Chitral is located across the border from the Afghan districts of Nuristan and Kunar, both of which house significant numbers of Afghan and Pakistani Taliban fighters.
The US largely pulled out of the area about a year ago but has recently added additional troops.
Pakistan complained earlier this summer that militants coming from Afghanistan killed at least 55 members of the security forces and tribal police in a spate of attacks, and demanded that US and Afghan forces do more to stem the flow of fighters.
Kabul and Washington have long accused Pakistan of not doing enough to stop militants from crossing into Afghanistan to stage attacks. Afghanistan has also complained that Pakistan fired more than 750 rockets into eastern Afghanistan earlier this summer that killed at least 40 people.
The Pakistan army denied it intentionally fired rockets into Afghanistan, but acknowledged that several rounds fired at militants conducting cross-border attacks may have landed over the border.
Also Saturday, gunmen kidnapped and killed a retired army colonel in northwestern Pakistan, and a police officer died trying to rescue him, said police official Umer Hayat.
The gunmen seized Col. Shakeel Ahmad as he was on his way home from morning prayers in the garrison city of Kohat, said Hayat.
Police intercepted the gunmen's car at a checkpoint and engaged them in a firefight in which one police officer was killed and two others wounded. The gunmen escaped and later shot dead Ahmad and abandoned his body alongside a road.
No group has claimed responsibility, but the Pakistani Taliban have often targeted soldiers and police in the country.
CHITRAL: Several hundred militants from Afghanistan launched a pre-dawn cross-border raid on Pakistani paramilitary posts and civilian settlements, killing up to 15 people, government and security officials said.
Soldiers of the Chitral Scouts and a few civilians were among the dead in the string of attacks that began with an assault on paramilitary check posts in the border village of Arandu in the northwest just across from Afghanistan's Nuristan province.
Militants then attacked more areas near the border, including civilian population, triggering clashes with the security forces that lasted for hours.
“Militants attacked some posts with heavy weapons while firing mortar bombs on others causing the casualties,” one security official said of the attack in Arandu.
The area's top government official, Rehmatullah Wazir, said a total of 15 people, mostly troops, were killed, while a military official in the region put the death toll at 12.
Wazir said there had been casualties on the militant side but he did not say how many.
Cross-border raids have raised tension between Pakistan and Afghanistan in recent months as they battle protracted insurgencies by Taliban and al Qaeda-linked militants.
Pakistani Taliban fighters who fled to Afghanistan in the face of army offensives have joined allies there to regroup and threaten Pakistani border regions, analysts say.
Twenty-seven Pakistani servicemen were killed and 45 militants died in clashes in July when some 600 militants from Afghanistan attacked two Pakistani villages in the Dir region, also in the country's northwest.
Pakistani Taliban later claimed responsibility for the Dir attack, part of seemingly new militant strategy of carrying out large-scale attacks on government and army targets.
Militants have largely relied on a campaign of suicide and bomb attacks that have killed thousands of people across the country.
Pakistan blames Afghanistan for giving refuge to militants on its side of the border, leaving its troops to counter-attack when it chases them out of the tribal areas and into Afghanistan.
Kabul in turn has blamed Pakistan in recent months for killing dozens of civilians in cross-border shelling.