KABUL, Afghanistan – Afghan President Hamid Karzai threatened Sunday to send Afghan troops across the border to fight militants in Pakistan, a forceful warning to insurgents and the Pakistani government that his country is fed up with cross-border attacks.
Karzai said Afghanistan has the right to self defense, and because militants cross over from Pakistan “to come and kill Afghan and kill coalition troops, it exactly gives us the right to do the same.”
Speaking at a Sunday news conference, Karzai warned Pakistan-based Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud that Afghan forces would target him on his home turf. He is suspected in last year’s assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
“Baitullah Mehsud should know that we will go after him now and hit him in his house,” Karzai said.
“And the other fellow, (Taliban leader) Mullah Omar of Pakistan should know the same,” Karzai continued. “This is a two-way road in this case, and Afghans are good at the two-way road journey. We will complete the journey and we will get them and we will defeat them. We will avenge all that they have done to Afghanistan for the past so many years.”
Neither government officials nor a spokesman for the Taliban in Pakistan could immediately be reached for comment.
Karzai has long pleaded for Pakistan and international forces to confront militants in Pakistan, but has never before said he would send Afghan troops across the border.
U.S. officials have increased their warnings in recent weeks that the Afghan conflict will drag on for years unless militant safe havens in Pakistan are taken out. Military officials say counterinsurgency campaigns are extremely difficult to win when militants have safe areas where they can train, recruit and stockpile supplies.
Karzai said in recent fighting in the Garmser district of Helmand province — where hundreds of U.S. Marines have been battling insurgents the last two months — that most of the fighters came from Pakistan.
His comments come as Pakistan is seeking peace deals with militants in its borders, including with Mehsud.
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The deals have come under criticism from U.S. officials, who warn they will simply give militants time to regroup and intensify attacks inside Afghanistan. But Pakistan insists it’s not negotiating with “terrorists,” rather militants willing to lay down their arms.
Of particular concern is whether the deals will address militant activity inside Afghanistan.
Mehsud, who is based mainly in the South Waziristan tribal area, has said he would continue to send fighters to battle U.S. forces in Afghanistan even as he seeks peace with Pakistan.
U.S. and NATO commanders say that following the peace agreements this spring, attacks have risen in the eastern area of Afghanistan along the border.