THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Karzai blames Pakistan for rocket attacks across border

36 are killed in the east, officials say; Afghan artillery fired in retaliation

Karzai indicated Pakistani government forces were responsible, and the attacks “should be stopped immediately.” Karzai indicated Pakistani government forces were responsible, and the attacks “should be stopped immediately.”
By Rahim Faiez
Associated Press / June 27, 2011

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KABUL — President Hamid Karzai accused Pakistan yesterday of firing 470 rockets into two eastern Afghan provinces over the past three weeks, a deadly rain of artillery that Afghan officials said killed 36 people, including 12 children.

The attacks came in areas of Kunar and Nangarhar provinces, where NATO forces have withdrawn and where Pakistani Taliban moved in behind fleeing civilians, Afghan border officials said.

Karzai indicated Pakistani government forces are responsible for the bombardment, and “they should be stopped immediately.’’

In response to the Pakistani barrage, Afghan security forces in the eastern provinces of Khost and Paktika fired artillery across the border at least twice on Friday, spokesman Mohammad Zahir Azimi said.

And “if they are not being carried out by Pakistan, Pakistan should make it clear who is behind the attacks,’’ he said in a statement issued by the presidential palace.

Meanwhile, NATO reported that five service members were killed in at least three insurgent attacks in western, southern, and eastern Afghanistan.

The international coalition gave no other details.

But the Spanish Defense Ministry said two of the dead were Spanish soldiers who were killed when an improvised explosive device detonated in Badghis Province in western Afghanistan.

The deaths bring to at least 53 the number of NATO service members killed in June and to more than 200 this year.

Karzai said he discussed the rocket barrage with the Pakistani president, Asif Ali Zadari, during an antiterrorism conference in Tehran on Saturday, the same day the Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman spoke of the attacks and warned that Afghanistan would defend itself.

“The government of Pakistan should understand that there will be a reaction for killing Afghan citizens,’’ said Azimi, the spokesman.

Afghan security officials said NATO also fired into Pakistan on June 17. NATO and Pakistani military officials earlier denied any knowledge of such border fire from the Afghan side.

The Afghan president said he also discussed the border attack with the NATO commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, and US Ambassador Karl Eikenberry during his regular national security council meeting yesterday.

US and Afghan officials have pressured Pakistan to end its security forces’ long-standing relationship with the Taliban movement, viewed as a tool for Pakistani influence over strategically placed Afghanistan.

Such major artillery support for a Taliban operation, however, would be one of the most blatant recent examples of Pakistani support and bodes ill for the testy relationship among the three countries.

Afghan border police spokesman Edris Mohmand, who reported 36 Afghans killed by the rockets, including 12 children, said 2,000 families have fled districts threatened by the barrage, including Asmar and Nangalam in Kunar, and Goshta district in Nangahar.

“All these attacks have been from Pakistan’s side and for sure they are Pakistani weapons being used against innocent Afghans,’’ Mohmand said. “The border police in the eastern region have been equipped with heavy artillery, but we are waiting for orders from the interior minister.’’

NATO has recently withdrawn many of its combat troops from forward operating bases and combat outposts in Kunar and Nangarhar. Both provinces continue to be heavily contested by Taliban fighters.

Azimi said the Afghan Defense Ministry “asks the president of Pakistan to stop the artillery firing and compensate the losses caused.’’

Violence has been on the rise across Afghanistan since the country’s Taliban launched a spring offensive and promised retaliation for the death of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden during a US raid in Pakistan on May 2.

On Saturday, a suicide bomber blew up his sport utility vehicle at a health clinic in eastern Afghanistan while women and children lined up for maternity care and vaccinations. At least 35 were killed.

The vehicle smashed through a wall at the Akbarkhail Public Medical Center before anyone could shoot the driver or blow out the tires, local officials said. The force of the blast caused the building to collapse.

Survivors frantically dug through the rubble with shovels and bare hands.

At least 53 other people were wounded, said the provincial public health director, Dr. Mohammad Zaref Nayebkhail.

“The casualties are actually way higher than that, but the local villagers rushed to the hospital right after the explosion and took the bodies of their relatives to their own villages,’’ Nayebkhail said.

The Taliban denied it was behind the bombing in the Azra district in Logar Province.

Material from The New York Times was used in this report.

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