US urges Pakistan to exercise restraint after deadly retaliatory airstrikes in Afghanistan

US, White House, Pakistan, airstrikes, Afghanistan
Image Source : AP White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.

Washington: The United States on Monday (local time) urged Pakistan to exercise restraint in its counter-terrorist offensive in Afghanistan, hours after Islamabad carried out airstrikes aimed at the hideouts of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) that killed eight people, including children. In response to the airstrikes at Khost and Paktia provinces, the Taliban forces said they targeted Pakistan’s military posts with heavy weapons.

While addressing a regular press briefing, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean Pierre urged both sides to address any major differences through dialogue. She said, “We are aware of the reports, obviously, that Pakistan carried out airstrikes in Afghanistan in response to an attack in Pakistan on Saturday at a military post. We deeply regret the loss of life and injuries sustained during the attack in Pakistan and the loss of civilian lives during the strikes in — Afghanistan.”

“We urge the Taliban to ensure that terrorist attacks are not launched from — Afghan soil. We urge Pakistan to exercise restraint and ensure civilians are not harmed in their counterterrorism efforts. We urge both sides to address any differences through dialogue. We remain committed to ensuring that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for terrorists who wish to harm the United States or our other partners or allies,” she continued.

Pakistan’s attack on Afghanistan

Pakistan’s Foreign Office on Monday confirmed that the administration carried out “intelligence-based anti-terrorist operations” inside the border regions of Afghanistan, hours after Kabul said airstrikes conducted on its soil had killed eight people. The dead included five women and three children in the airstrikes carried out by Pakistan.

A press release from the FO said the prime targets of the operation conducted in the morning earlier today were terrorists belonging to the Hafiz Gul Bahadur Group, adding that the outfit, along with the banned militant TTP, was responsible for multiple terrorist attacks inside Pakistan, resulting in “deaths of hundreds of civilians and law enforcement officials”.

“Pakistan has repeatedly conveyed its serious concerns to the interim Afghan government over the presence of terror outfits, including TTP, inside Afghanistan. These terrorists pose a grave threat to Pakistan’s security and have consistently used Afghan territory to launch terror attacks inside Pakistani territory.” the statement added.

Pakistan carried out the airstrikes in retaliation for a militant attack on Saturday that killed seven soldiers in North Waziristan. A suicide bomber rammed his explosive-laden truck into a military post in North Waziristan, killing the soldiers. The attack on the military post was claimed by a newly formed militant group, Jaish-e-Fursan-e-Muhammad. However, Pakistani security officials believed the group mainly is comprised of members of the outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP, which often targets Pakistani soldiers and police.

How did the Taliban react?

Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid called the attack a violation of Afghanistan’s sovereignty. “The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan does not allow anyone to compromise security by using Afghan territory,” he added in a statement. While Pakistan blames Afghanistan for sheltering the TTP responsible for the rise of such attacks, the ruling Taliban has denied these allegations. 

In response to the Pakistani military’s air strikes on the Afghanistan border, the Taliban claimed it has also carried out similar attacks on “Pakistani military centres with heavy weapons”. Condemning the attack on Afghanistani soil, the extremist organisation warned Islamabad to prepare for the worst repercussions. “Any violation of Afghanistan’s sovereignty would have bad consequences,” Mujahid said.

Mujahid said that such attacks would have bad consequences that Pakistan would not be able to handle. “Pakistan shouldn’t blame Afghanistan for the lack of control, incompetence, and problems in its own territory,” Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman, said in the statement.

The relations between the two South Asian nations have increasingly frayed in recent years, with Pakistan accusing the extremist government of failing to root out militants staging attacks in Pakistan from their soil. An estimated 5,000 to 6,000 militants from TTP have taken shelter in neighbouring Afghanistan, Pakistan’s Special Representative to Afghanistan Ambassador Asif Durrani has said, amidst a slew of terrorist attacks in this country on Saturday. 

(with inputs from agencies)

ALSO READ | Taliban claims it hit back at Pakistan military after airstrikes, warns of ‘worst consequences’