L (Agencies) - Afghan security forces and their Nato allies have launched a new push against the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani network along the troubled Pakistani border, senior defence officials said on Tuesday.
US commanders say the network is their most potent enemy in eastern Afghanistan and increasingly capable of launching high-profile attacks in Kabul. Afghan Defence minister Abdul Rahim Wardak said operation Knife Edge was launched two days ago, while a senior defence ministry official said it was largely against the Haqqani network.
The Afghan ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the operation was tied to the recent spats between Washington and Islamabad, but gave no details about its scale.
Speaking to reporters ahead of a weaponry exhibition in Kabul, Wardak said the operation would deliver a crashing blow to the enemys capabilities to conduct operations, especially terrorist operations during the winter.
This operation is launched along the border because the enemy lately operates along the border on both sides. Sometimes on this side and sometimes on the other side, said the Afghan chief of army staff, Sher Mohammad Karimi.
A NATO spokesman confirmed only that 'enhanced official operations were ongoing to reduce the select insurgent network in the eastern region that borders Pakistan, but offered no operational details for security reasons.
These networks are directly responsible for recent attacks against the people of Afghanistan and coalition forces, said US Captain Justin Brockhoff.
No officials would pinpoint the precise area of operations along the long and violent border, but the district chief of Gurbuzin Khost province said residents had seen a lot of troop movement.
Over the past three days people are telling us that every day, after its dark, dozens of coalition vehicles move towards Ghulam Khan border area, said the district chief, Wali Shah Hemat.
Monitoring desk adds: The scale of the American build-up, including helicopter gunships, heavy artillery and hundreds of American and Afghan troops, caused panic in North Waziristan where tribal militias who feared they could be targeted gathered in Miranshah to coordinate their response.
Local officials in FATA warned that Pakistans armed forces would repel any incursion across the border by American forces, but military sources in Islamabad and Afghan officials suggested the build-up was part of a coordinated operation.
According to Pakistan Army sources, the US had informed Islamabad about the planned build-up and described it as part of a cordon and search operation in which Haqqani Network fighters will be pushed over the Afghan border from North Waziristan and then encircled, arrested or killed by American forces lying in wait.
A spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul declined to comment on the build-up. A spokesman for the Pakistan Army said it had not been informed about the number of American troops on the border but it was reported that American and Afghan troops had established curfews in eastern Khost province, conducted house to house searches, established checkpoints and occupied hilltops close to Ghulam Khan on the Pakistan side of the border.
Meanwhile, Pentagon said Monday that cross-border attacks emanating from Pakistan against US-led forces in Afghanistan have increased since the US raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.
Asked if there was a recent rise in artillery or rocket fire across the border into Afghanistan, press secretary George Little told reporters in an email: This summer, June-August, we did see an increase in cross border incidents.
The Pentagon offered no other details and did not link the trend to the May raid by Navy SEAL commandos deep inside Pakistan that took out Al-Qaedas leader.
US soldiers in Afghanistans eastern Paktika province told the New York Times that rocket fire had dramatically increased from Pakistani territory.
There had been at least 102 close-border attacks against three US outposts in Paktika since May, compared to 13 during the same period last year, it said.
Meanwhile, The military has said the regular army and FC troops have been sent to border areas with Afghanistan to stop militants attacks.
Talking to Radio Pakistan, Director General ISPR Major Gen Athar Abbas said: Pakistan will not allow militants to carry out attacks on our check posts, border villages and kill our civilians.
He said about 100 personnel of police, levies and paramilitary forces have so far been martyred in militant attacks from across the border during last 3-4 months.
He said for the first time Pakistan army has been deployed along with FC personnel in Chitral and Dir border areas to stop cross border attacks on Pakistani check posts by insurgents. ISAF was informed about these attacks, besides pointing out the location of hideouts of militants, but no action has so far been taken which may prove that safe havens and bunkers have been destroyed or militants have fled from there, he added.
He said apparently it seems that there is no presence of Afghan army or ISAF in the vast area from where militants are operating against Pakistan.
He said about 37 security personnel were martyred in Chitral attack, which was first such attack and is a matter of great concern for us.
Replying to a question, he said there is a report that militants have attacked in Bajaur, but no casualty has so far been reported.
He said Dir is the most affected area and a terrorist group fled from Swat is involved in these attacks so that they (militants) can come to Swat via Dir.
He said we strengthened all border check posts and increased their numbers in Dir.
He said militants have safe havens in Kunar, Nooristan and Nangarhar and there are no security forces in most of these areas of Afghanistan. It seems the militants are being supported locally and operating freely, he added.
He said Pakistan cannot launch operation across the border.
He said Pakistan took up the issue with the Afghan army and ISAF, but we did not see any effective operation in that area.