Afghan forces deployed to the Afghanistan-Pakistan border have reportedly taken heavy artillery from Pakistani troops amid intensifying clashes between the two countries that have killed at least two people and wounded nearly 25 others.
According to various news outlets, one Afghan soldier and a Pakistani army major have been killed in recent clashes that have also injured 10 civilians, including children, in addition to six Afghan soldiers and nine Pakistani troops.
One of the incidents took place on June 15 at the Torkham Gate border crossing, marking the second encounter between the two countries at the same location in only days. The first one reportedly took place on June 12.
Khaama Press (KP) reports that the recent fighting has erupted over the building of a border gate at Torkham crossing, which connects the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar with Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Nangarhar province is considered a stronghold held by the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) branch of Afghanistan.
Pakistani officials claim the border gate “is well on its side of the border and will help stop militants from crossing and help fight drug trafficking,” notes Reuters.
“When our people began construction work on the gate on Wednesday [June 15], Afghan forces again opened fire at our troops and construction workers,” a Pakistani security official told Reuters on condition of anonymity, noting that “Pakistan had retaliated with long-range artillery and mortars.”
The fighting was reportedly confirmed by the Pakistani military, while Afghan officials denied fighting that day.
Reuters notes that no casualties were reported from that incident.
On June 12, renewed fighting between the Afghanistan and Pakistan military at the Torkham Gate, the main border crossing at the end of the Khyber Pass, left at least one Afghan soldier dead and six injured, an Afghan official is quoted by several news outlets as saying.
A Pakistani Army major died after he was wounded in the fight, reports Reuters, adding that nine other Pakistani troops were wounded.
Afghan troops have received reinforcements and “are ready to defend our country until the last drop of blood in our bodies,” reportedly said Ayub Hussainkhil, border police commander in eastern Afghanistan, after the battle.
The two neighboring nations have “agreed on a ceasefire,” recently said Omar Zakhilwal, Afghanistan’s ambassador to Islamabad, after he met with Pakistani officials.
On June 15, Reuters reported that “previous ceasefire deals announced over the last two days were swiftly broken.”
U.S. allies Afghanistan and Pakistan have never enjoyed a close relationship.
The ties between the two nations have been further strained over the course of the nearly 15-year-old Afghanistan war by Afghan accusations, echoed by the United States, that Pakistan supports the Taliban, which is fighting to remove the U.S.-backed government in Kabul, and other terrorist groups.
Pakistan has vehemently denied the allegations and has in turn accused Afghanistan of supporting terrorist groups, namely the Pakistani Taliban.
“The countries have blamed each other for the fighting that broke out on Sunday [June 12] at the main crossing point between them over the construction of a new border post on the Pakistani side,” reports Reuters.
“Pakistan’s foreign ministry summoned ambassador Zakhilwal to demand that Afghanistan put an end to the ‘unprovoked firing’ and to protest against the death of a Pakistani army major, shot on the border in a clash this week,” it adds.
Washington is “concerned” by the fighting between its two allies and by reports that heavy weapons were involved, declared U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby.
The spokesman encouraged the two sides “to resolve their disagreements … and to de-escalate tensions,” adding that “good relations between the two countries are key to the stability to the region.”
Clashes between the two sides caused problems at the border crossing.
“By Wednesday, trucks carrying goods to Afghanistan had been stranded on the Pakistani side of the border for four days,” reports Reuters.
Khaama Press points out:
This comes as tensions intensified among the Afghan and Pakistani border guards along Torkham in mid-May but the issue was resolved due to diplomatic intervention by the officials of the two countries. Both the Afghan and Pakistani forces deployed additional troops and heavy military equipment including tanks due to the growing tensions.
Pakistan and Afghanistan share a nearly 1,370-mile border.