Islamabad, Pakistan – At least four Pakistani soldiers and 12 armed fighters have been killed in clashes near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, with the outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) armed group claiming responsibility.
In a statement on Wednesday, the Pakistani army said a large group of “terrorists equipped with the latest weapons” attacked two military checkposts in Chitral district in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, resulting in an “intense exchange of fire”.
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The statement said the attacks were coordinated from the Kunar and Nuristan provinces of neighbouring Afghanistan and a combing operation was under way.
“Owing to heightened threat environment, Pakistan’s own posts were already on high alert,” it said, adding that the Taliban administration in Afghanistan is “expected to fulfil its obligations and deny the use of Afghan soil by terrorists for perpetuating acts of terrorism against Pakistan”.
Muhammed Ali, a government official in Chitral, told Al Jazeera there was tense calm in the area on Thursday.
“We have been informed that there was some firing and three mortars were fired from across the border on Thursday morning as well. However, there is no report of any casualty or any damage,” Ali said.
The mountainous region of Chitral remains covered in snow during winter, making cross-border movement nearly impossible due to the difficult terrain. However, the summer season, according to officials, sees a more frequent movement of such attackers.
More than 300 attacks of varying intensity have rocked the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa this year alone.
The TTP group, which is ideologically aligned with the ruling Taliban in Afghanistan, denied allegations that it used Afghan soil to launch the attacks.
“It should be remembered that thousands of our mujahideen have already established centres on the land of Chitral,” the group’s spokesman Muhammad Khurasani said in a statement on Thursday.
The TTP was founded in 2007 to seek stricter enforcement of Islamic laws in Pakistan, the release of its members in government custody, and a reduced Pakistani military presence in parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
At the peak of its influence, the group controlled many areas in northwest Pakistan before the military defeated it after a massive operation.
But in recent years, there has been a surge in TTP attacks across Pakistan, mainly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the southwestern Balochistan provinces.
Last month, six Pakistani soldiers were killed in the South Waziristan district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in an attack claimed by the TTP. Another attack by the group last month in Balochistan killed 12 soldiers.
The Chitral attack came shortly after the main border crossing between Pakistan and Afghanistan had to be shut down on Wednesday after forces on both sides exchanged fire.
The border remained closed on Thursday as hundreds of trucks loaded with essential goods waited on each side.
Pakistan has repeatedly asked Afghanistan to control the movement of armed groups and accused the Taliban government of not doing enough. The Taliban denies it shelters TTP fighters on Afghan soil.