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Pakistan Says Militants Pouring In From Afghanistan

Suspected Afghan militants line up before the media in Pakistan's troubled Bajaur region.
RAWALPINDI, Pakistan (Reuters) -- Militants battling Pakistani forces are getting weapons and reinforcements from Afghanistan, security officials have said, vowing no let-up in their offensive in the northwest.

Government forces launched an offensive in the Bajaur region on the Afghan border in August after years of complaints from U.S. and Afghan officials that Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan were getting help from Pakistani border areas such as Bajaur.

Now the tables have turned and the militants locked in heavy fighting with Pakistani forces are getting help from the Afghan side of the border, officials said.

"The Pakistan-Afghan border is porous and is now causing trouble for us in Bajaur," a senior security source in the military told a news briefing.

"Now movement is taking place to Pakistan from Afghanistan," said the official, who along with a colleague at the briefing, declined to be identified.

The officials did not blame the Afghan government for sending militants across the border but called on Kabul and U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan forces to stop the flow.

Bajaur is the smallest of Pakistan's seven so-called tribal agencies, semi-autonomous ethnic Pashtun tribal regions.

U.S. officials say Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked fighters, financed by drug money, use the tribal regions as an operating base to launch attacks into Afghanistan.

Pakistan has been under pressure from the United States to block cross-border militant incursions into Afghanistan.

But in a sign of growing frustration with Pakistan's efforts to stem the flow, U.S. forces have carried out six cross-border missile strikes by pilotless drones and a commando raid on a border village this month.

The Pakistani offensive had made Bajaur a "center of gravity" and "magnet," and even though up to 1,000 had been killed, the region was drawing militants from as far as Central Asia via Afghanistan, the officials said.

"Stop the reverse flow in Bajaur. It's coming. Heavy weapons are coming. The militants are coming," a second Pakistani official said.

In the latest fighting, jets hit militant hideouts after the Taliban announced a ceasefire for the Muslim festival of Eid-al-Fitr, killing 10 militants, a paramilitary officer said.

Refugees In Afghanistan

The fighting has displaced several hundred thousand people and about 20,000 had sought refuge across the border in Afghanistan, the United Nations said.

Security forces launched the offensive in Bajaur after a year of deteriorating security with militants carrying out 88 suicide attacks across the country since July last year in which nearly 1,200 people were killed. A suicide truck bomber attacked a hotel in capital Islamabad on September 20 killing 55 people.

Worsening security has coincided with a widening current account deficit, an unsustainable fiscal deficit and inflation running at more than 25 percent.

An economist serving on the prime minister's economic advisory council said Pakistan needed a capital infusion of $3 billion to $4 billion "up front" to stabilize its economy and bolster rapidly dwindling foreign reserves.

Nuclear-armed Pakistan's support is crucial for the U.S. war against terrorism and for the NATO mission in Afghanistan.

The security officials said they were not sure if any top Al-Qaeda member was in Bajaur. Pakistani intelligence officers have said Al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahri was believed to have visited in recent years. In 2006, a U.S. drone fired missiles at a house in Bajaur in the belief he was there.

The officials said tribesmen there were raising a militia to expel foreign militants from the Mamund district even though some Arabs linked to Al-Qaeda had family links with the valley.

"The Mamund Valley is likely to erupt, in our view, in about 48 to 72 hours," one of the officials said.

The officials said could not say how long the offensive would last but said it should be followed with reconciliation efforts and aid.