PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — Hundreds of Taliban fighters crossed from an area of eastern Afghanistan largely abandoned by U.S. troops Saturday and killed more than two dozen soldiers and police in northwest Pakistan, Pakistani officials said.
It was the latest in a series of attacks that have raised tensions among Pakistani, Afghan and U.S. officials. Afghan officials have denied the raids came from their side of the border.
At least 200 militants crossed into Chitral district, where militant violence is rare, Saturday morning and attacked seven checkpoints run by the paramilitary Frontier Corps, two of which were overrun, the Pakistani military said.
There were conflicting reports about the numbers of Pakistani security forces and militants killed.
The Pakistani military said 25 paramilitary soldiers and police and 20 militants were killed in the fighting. But local police official Nizam Khan said 38 soldiers and police died along with nine militants.
Fighting was still ongoing Saturday afternoon, as Pakistan sent in reinforcements to drive the militants back across the border, the military said.
The militants chanted "God is great!" and "Long live jihad!" as they fought, said Capt. Abdul Ghani, a member of the paramilitary forces.
The military blamed the attack on Pakistani Taliban fighters and their Afghan allies who have taken sanctuary in the Afghan districts of Nuristan and Kunar across the border from Chitral. The U.S. largely pulled out of Kunar about a year ago but recently added additional troops.
Maj. Mohammad Ayub Hassainkhail, deputy border police commander in eastern Afghanistan, denied the attack came from his side of the border.
"We have officers all along the border area and we haven't seen any movement of the insurgents across the border," said Hassainkhail.
Gen. Shams Ul-Rahman Zahid, the provincial police chief in Nuristan, said Pakistani Taliban fighters have operated in the province. But he claimed pressure from Afghan and NATO forces forced them to go back to Pakistan.
NATO did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The Pakistani military said it has given Afghan and NATO forces intelligence about large pockets of militants in Kunar and Nuristan over the last year, but they have not taken sufficient action.
In the absence of NATO and Afghan army forces along the border, "the terrorists are using these areas as safe havens and have mounted repeated attacks against ... security forces posts and isolated villages," the military said in a written statement.
Pakistan complained earlier this summer that militants coming from Afghanistan killed at least 55 members of the security forces and tribal police in a spate of attacks, and demanded that U.S. and Afghan forces do more to stem the flow of fighters.
A senior Western intelligence official expressed doubt at the time about Pakistan's figures and whether all the attacks came from bases in Afghanistan. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss intelligence matters.
Kabul and Washington have long accused Pakistan of not doing enough to stop militants from crossing into Afghanistan to stage attacks. Afghanistan also complained earlier this summer that Pakistan fired more than 750 rockets into eastern Afghanistan that killed at least 40 people.
The Pakistan army denied it intentionally fired rockets into Afghanistan, but acknowledged that several rounds fired at militants conducting cross-border attacks may have landed over the border.
Also Saturday, gunmen kidnapped and killed a retired army colonel in northwestern Pakistan, and a police officer died trying to rescue him, said police official Umer Hayat.
The gunmen seized Col. Shakeel Ahmad as he was on his way home from morning prayers in the garrison city of Kohat, said Hayat. Police intercepted the gunmen's car at a checkpoint and engaged them in a fire fight in which one police officer was killed and two others wounded. The gunmen escaped and later shot dead Ahmad and abandoned his body alongside a road.
No group has claimed responsibility, but the Pakistani Taliban have often targeted soldiers and police in the country.
Associated Press writer Rahim Faiez contributed to this report from Kabul, Afghanistan.