September 29, 2016 - 12:19 PM
NEW DELHI - India said Thursday it carried out "surgical strikes" against militants across the highly militarized frontier that divides the Kashmir region between India and Pakistan, in an exchange that escalated tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbours.
Pakistan dismissed the reports that India's military had targeted "terrorist launch pads" inside the Pakistan-controlled part of Kashmir. Islamabad said instead that two of its soldiers were killed in "unprovoked" firing by India across the border.
Tensions, which are always simmering between India and Pakistan, spiked after an attack earlier this month on an Indian military base in Kashmir. India accused Pakistan of sending militants belonging to the outlawed Jaish-e-Mohammed group, headquartered in Pakistan, to carry out the attack. Pakistan denied the charge.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been under heavy pressure to respond to the attack on the military base.
Indian officials gave few details about the strikes across the disputed border late Wednesday night.
"Significant casualties were caused to the terrorists and those who support them," Lt. Gen. Ranbir Singh, director general of military operations for the Indian Army, told reporters in New Delhi. Singh said the operations were over and India has no plans for more strikes. He said he shared details of the strikes with his Pakistani counterpart.
Indian soldiers travelling on foot crossed the Line of Control into the Pakistani-controlled portion to attack several targets based on intelligence about imminent attacks, said a high-ranking Indian official who would only brief reporters on condition of anonymity. He said the Indian forces killed at least 10 people before retreating back into Indian-controlled territory. The Indian soldiers suffered no losses, he said.
The Pakistani military flatly denied any "surgical strikes" had occurred.
"There has been no surgical strike by India, instead there had been cross-border fire initiated and conducted by India," a Pakistani military statement said.
Pakistani officials said two of their soldiers were killed and nine others were wounded in the exchanges at five different places along the disputed border.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned the "unprovoked and naked aggression of Indian forces."
The Pakistan military said in a statement that it "befittingly responded to Indian unprovoked firing" — implying it returned fire — along the Kashmir border near the villages of Bhimber, Kel and Lipa.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Thursday the U.S. expects Pakistan "to combat and de-legitimize" U.N. designated terrorists.
The U.S. is "firmly committed to our partnership with India and to our joint efforts to combat terrorism and we're prepared to deepen collaboration on U.N. terrorist designations," he said. "At the same time, we continue to be in close contact with Pakistan and we continue to value the important partnership that we have formed with them on a range of issues, including security issues."
Pakistan has sharply criticized India over its heavy-handed clampdown in Indian-controlled Kashmir following the killing of a Kashmiri militant leader nearly three months ago. Some of the biggest and most violent protests in recent years have broken out against Indian rule in Kashmir since the July 8 killing of Burhan Wani by Indian soldiers. A rolling curfew has been in place and more than 80 civilians have been killed by Indian troops who have used live ammunition and shotgun pellets to quell angry crowds.
Kashmir is split between India and Pakistan and is claimed by both.
Most people in the Indian-controlled portion favour independence or a merger with Pakistan. India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars over control of Kashmir since winning independence from British colonialists in 1947.
India accuses Pakistan of arming and training the insurgents and pushing them into the Indian portion of Kashmir to attack government forces and other targets. Pakistan says it provides only political and diplomatic support to the insurgents, who have been fighting since 1989.
Associated Press writers Kathy Gannon, Munir Ahmed and Asif Shahzad in Islamabad contributed to this report.
News from © The Associated Press, 2016