ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan army said on Tuesday it had handed back Afghan soldiers and civil officers to Afghan government authorities, a day after they slipped across the border into northwestern Pakistan.
The Afghan troops were fleeing after their border post was overrun, apparently by the Taliban.
A statement from the Pakistan army on Monday said 46 members of the Afghan forces, including five officers, crossed the border late Sunday near the Pakistani border town of Chitral in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
“46 Afg [Afghan] soldiers including 5 officers have been returned to Afghan govt authorities at Nawapass Bajaur onTuesday at 0035 hours, Pakistan Standard Time,” the army’s media wing, ISPR, said on Tuesday. “These soldiers from the Afghan National Army and Border Police were given safe passage into Pakistan, on their own request, by Pakistan Army in Arundu Sector of Pak-Afghan International Border, Chitral, on 25th Jul.”
After necessary clearance, the Afghan soldiers crossed into Pakistan along with their weapons, ammunition and communication equipment, the Pakistan army said.
“The said soldiers have now been amicably returned to Afghan authorities on their request along with their weapons and equipment,” the military’s media wing added. “Pakistan will continue to extend all kinds of support to our Afghan brethren in time of need.”
The Afghan government denied Monday its troops crossed into Pakistan.
“This issue is not true. No Afghan military personnel have taken refuge in Pakistan, the sensitivity that all Afghans have against Pakistan and especially our military, is clear to all,” said Gen. Ajmal Omer Shinwari, spokesman for the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces. He made the statement at a press conference in the Afghan capital Kabul.
But early on Tuesday, Pakistan’s military distributed a video of Afghan soldiers in uniform being greeted by Pakistani troops.
Neither Pakistan nor Afghanistan have provided information about fighting on the Afghan side of the border. Pakistan’s military has dismissed the Afghan denial.
The Taliban have swiftly captured territory in recent weeks in Afghanistan, and seized strategic border crossings with several neighboring countries. They are also threatening a number of provincial capitals — advances that come as the last US and NATO soldiers complete their final withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The insurgents are said to now control about half of Afghanistan’s 419 district centers.
Meanwhile, the United States will continue air strikes in support of Afghan forces fighting the Taliban, a top US general said on Sunday, as the insurgents press on with offensives across the country. “The United States has increased air strikes in the support of Afghan forces over the last several days, and we are prepared to continue this heightened level of support in the coming weeks if the Taliban continue their attacks,” General Kenneth McKenzie, head of the US Army Central Command, told reporters in Kabul.
McKenzie acknowledged that there were tough days ahead for the Afghan government, but insisted that the Taliban were nowhere close to victory.
“The Taliban are attempting to create a sense of inevitability about their campaign. They are wrong,” he said.
“Taliban victory is not inevitable.” McKenzie’s remarks came as Afghan officials in the southern province of Kandahar said fighting in the region had displaced about 22,000 families in the past month.
“They have all moved from the volatile districts of the city to safer areas,” Dost Mohammad Daryab, head of the provincial refugee department, said. On Sunday, fighting continued on the outskirts of Kandahar city.
“The negligence of some security forces, especially the police, has made way for the Taliban to come that close,” Lalai Dastageeri, deputy governor of Kandahar province, said.
“We are now trying to organise our security forces.” Local authorities had set up four camps for the displaced people who are estimated to be about 154,000.
Earlier this week, the chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff General Mark Milley said the Taliban appear to have “strategic momentum” on the battlefield. Global rights group Human Rights Watch said there were reports the Taliban were committing atrocities against civilians in areas they had captured, including in the town of Spin Boldak near the border with Pakistan they took earlier this month.