Salem Radio Network News Monday, February 6, 2023

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Pakistan: Afghan Taliban shell border town, killing civilian

QUETTA, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistani authorities said at least one person was killed and 20 others, including women and children, were wounded when Afghan Taliban forces fired mortars on Thursday toward civilians near the southwestern Chaman border crossing, reflecting increasing tension between the neighboring nations.

The latest violence follows a series of deadly incidents and attacks that have strained relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers in recent months. It was not immediately clear what preceded the fire near Chaman, a key trade route between the two sides.

The attack came days after seven Pakistani civilians and an Afghan Taliban fighterwere killed in another cross-border shelling by Taliban forces. No military spokesman was immediately available for comment.

Local security officials in Chaman blamed the Afghan Taliban for initiating the fire, saying they targeted Pakistani soldiers who were repairing a portion of the damaged border fence. Residents said late Thursday that they were still hearing intermittent exchanges of fire near the Chaman crossing, known as Friendship Gate.

The crossing was closed on Thursday afternoon.

In Kabul, Enayatullah Khawarazmi, the spokesman for the Taliban government’s Defense Ministry, blamed Pakistan for initiating the fire, saying “the Islamic Emirate considers dialogue as a reasonable way to solve any problem.”

It was unclear whether there were any casualties on the Afghan side of the border.

Akhtar Mohammad, a doctor at a hospital in Chaman, said they received 21 wounded following the clashes, one of whom later died. He said some of the wounded were in critical condition and that those wounded included seven women and children who were hit when mortar shells struck their homes.

Abdul Hameed Zehri, a government administrator in the Pakistani town of Chaman in southwestern Baluchistan province, also confirmed the casualties. Security officials said Pakistan’s army responded to the Afghan fire, but did not give further details.

Pakistani officials also said mortar shells fired by the Taliban hit a truck near Chaman. They accused the Afghan Taliban forces of intentionally targeting the civilian population.

Later, the officials said the fire had subsided and that Pakistani authorities were in contact with Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers to prevent further escalation.

The Taliban seized power in Afghanistan in August 2021, sweeping into the capital, Kabul, and taking the rest of the country as U.S. and NATO forces were in the final weeks of their pullout after 20 years of war.

Since then, the two neighbors have traded fire mainly over lingering disputes about Pakistan’s construction of a fence along the border. Incidents of militant attacks on Pakistani security forces have also increased since Pakistan’s new army chief, Gen. Asim Munir, took charge on Nov. 29, replacing Qamar Javed Bajwa.

Also Thursday, U.S. Central Command chief, Gen. Erik Kurilla, visited Pakistan and met with Munir in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, according to a military statement. The two discussed a range of issues, including regional stability and security cooperation. The statement said the CENTCOM commander also visited the northwestern Pakistani border town of Torkham near Afghanistan.

Earlier this month, Pakistan’s Embassy in Kabul came under gunfire in an attack that was later claimed by the Islamic State group. Pakistani officials at the time had called the incident an attack on its envoy there. Islamabad also has said that Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers are sheltering militants who carry out deadly attacks on Pakistani soil.

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Associated Press writers Munir Ahmed and Rahim Faiez in Islamabad contributed to this story.

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