ISLAMABAD: A senior Pakistan Army officer confirmed that at least six different “terrorist camps” on the Afghan side of the Pak-Afghan border were destroyed yesterday by Pakistani artillery. According to the source, who asked not to be named, all the camps were located within 100 to 200 meters across the border, on the Afghan side, and most of them either belonged to or were were affiliated with the Tahreek-e-Taliban-JamaatulAhraar (TTP-JA) – an IS-loyalist Pakistani Taliban splinter group that has claimed responsibility for most of the terror attacks in mainland Pakistan this past week. “Six camps, all on the Khyber and Mohmand tribal agency axis, including the one in Lalpura belonging to JamaatulAhraar deputy commander AdilBacha, have been engaged, neutralised and dismantled overnight by our gunners,” a private television channel quoted the officer as saying. Dozens have been killed in terror attacks this past week in all four of Pakistan’s provinces, including an attack on an 800-year-old shrine in Sehwan Sharif on Thursday that killed over 80, and is being categorised as the biggest terror attack in the country since the Peshawar Army Public School massacre in 2014 that killed over 150.
JamaatulAhaar claimed that attack too, and have been publishing videos, threatening to strike Pakistan since then. The TTP-JA are believed to be set up in Afghan provinces – Kunar and Nangarhar – according to several military assessments and statements released since the Peshawar massacre, and have conducted various attacks on Pakistani territory since moving across the border from local bases after the launch of a massive counter-insurgency operation, Operation Zarb-e-Azab, by the Pakistanis in 2014-15. Last night’s actions followed the unprecedented closure of all major Pak-Afghan border crossings by Pakistan on Friday, as well as a meeting between Pakistani generals and Afghan officials (the military said a list of over 70 militants was handed to the Afghans to take action immediate action against) and phone calls between Pakistan’s senior-most diplomat, Sartaj Aziz, and the Afghan National Security Adviser, Hanif Atmar.
Also, following the attacks, Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa called the US General John Nicholson, Commander of Mission Resolute Support in Afghanistan. A military statement qoutedBajwa telling Nicholson that the “freedom of attacks” from Afghanistan-based terror groups is testing Pakistan’s current policy of cross border restraint. About the Pakistani army’s actions, the military source told that “the terror camps in Afghanistan indicated a clear danger to Pakistan, and as nothing was being done about them by Afghan or western forces on that side of the border, we had to take the matter into our own hands.” However, no air assets were used in the strikes. A senior officer of the Pakistan Air Force said that there are clear plans to strike terrorists settled in Afghanistan, but we don’t have the green light yet. Another Pakistan Air Force pilot said, “There’s a lot of anger, and we are ready to go, have been training to go, but they won’t let us go in to Afghanistan yet.” For years, Pakistan and Afghanistan have taken gibesat each other for not doing enough about the militant groups based on their own territory. Kabul says groups affiliated with the Afghan Taliban, like the Haqqani Network, use Pakistani soil for protection and to strike in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, Islamabad claims that groups associated with the Pakistani Taliban, like JamaatulAhraar, enjoy safe havens in Afghanistan and are funded by Afghan intelligence and its allies, like Indian and US intelligence services. But in America and Pakistan’s longest war, the involvement of a nuclear-armed IS’ regular military operating on Afghan soil could be a signature of a new level of escalation.