At least 66 people including Taliban militants have been killed in two days of violent attacks by the Islamist militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan in the last two days.
A Taliban attack on an Afghan road construction company early on Thursday triggered an hours-long firefight that killed 36 people and wounded another 20 in the worst single attack for months, while a Taliban suicide attack on Afghan police in Jalalabad killed 13 and injured 20 others.
The attack happened in the eastern province of Paktia, which borders Pakistan, at around 2am and lasted for several hours, reports from Afghanistan quoted a provincial spokesman as saying.
It is thought to be the highest single death toll in a Taliban attack since the militant Islamists struck at a bank in Jalalabad, also in the east, in February, killing 38 people including police collecting their salaries.
"A large group of Taliban attacked a road construction company in Paktia province," said Paktia provincial spokesman Rohullah Samoon. "Thirty-five guards and staff of the company were killed and 20 were injured. There were casualties on the Taliban side as well." Samoon said that eight Taliban were killed.
The director of the Afghan company targeted, Galaxy Sky, told reporters that the death toll was in fact 36 and included a Pakistani national. "They (the Taliban) destroyed a lot of our equipment including vehicles and equipment used for road construction," Noorullah Bidar said, according to reports.
"We don't know why they attacked us... they are doing this to prevent reconstruction in Afghanistan."
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the movement carried out the attack, killing 40 people and torching four vehicles. He did not mention any Taliban casualties.
The militants have made Afghan government projects a prime target in a bid to undermine the authority of President Hamid Karzai's administration and have repeatedly kidnapped foreign road construction workers from camps in the past.
The attack comes a few weeks after the Taliban announced the start of their annual spring offensive at the end of April. There are currently around 130,000 US-led international troops in the troubled country although limited troop withdrawals are due to start from a handful of safer areas in July.
This is ahead of a scheduled full withdrawal of combat troops in 2014, although there have been calls for this timetable to be speeded up in the wake of the killing of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden by US forces in Pakistan on May 2.
Paktia, which borders Pakistan's lawless border regions where Taliban are known to have rear bases, is a highly volatile province frequently hit by violence and cross-border attacks.
Meanwhile, in Pakistan’s northwestern city of Peshawar a day before, at least 17 people, including two security personnel and 15 fighters, were killed in major back-to-back attacks in retaliation to the killing of the al-Qaida chief.
According to reports, Peshawar police chief Liaqat Ali Khan said that 80 to 100 militants armed with rockets and mortars had attacked a checkpost at Sangu, on the outskirts of the city, from three sides early on Wednesday.
“Then they carried out a big attack early in the morning. We also called in reinforcements to counter the attack and we did it,” he said. Khan said the attack, which was quite severe, killed two soldiers and injured five others. However, the joint squads of police and the paramilitary Frontier Constabulary succeeded in repelling the attack, he said. The fighting went on for nearly four hours, and 15 militants were also killed.
Khan said the attackers threw hand grenades and fired rockets at the checkpoint, while police retaliated with guns, mortar fire and rockets. The attackers came from Khyber Agency and fled back in the same direction after staging what appeared to be a carefully planned hit under cover of night.
“They traveled in vehicles towards the checkpost, then left the vehicles in the tribal area and reached the check-post on foot using ill-frequented routes,” he said.
In a related incident, the provincial government of Balochistan, Pakistan’s southwestern province, has ordered an inquiry into the killing of five Chechens, including three women, by security forces after media said they had been unarmed.
The group was killed on Tuesday, with authorities saying they were al-Qaida-linked suicide bombers.
The paramilitary Frontier Corps and police gunned down the five Chechens near a security checkpoint on the outskirts of Balochistan’s provincial capital Quetta, saying explosives were strapped to their bodies and they were attempting to attack government forces. But the media raised doubts over statements by security forces, with television footage showing a wounded woman waving her hand in the air before her death.
Two officials of a bomb disposal squad which searched the bodies after the shooting told reporters that they found no explosives strapped to the bodies of the Chechens. "They were unarmed and had no suicide jackets or explosives with them," one of the officials said.
"Five valid and two expired Russian passports were found in a ladies' handbag lying with the bodies," the second official said.
A witness said the five had got out of a vehicle and were chased by police before they were shot.
Meanwhile, the Pakistani government has decided to regularise the movement of foreigners and any foreigner or diplomat will be sent back to his duty station if found without a legal permit for visiting a particular area in the country.
A high-level meeting chaired by the country’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik requested the Foreign Ministry to re-circulate the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) on the movement of foreigners among the diplomatic community.
It was decided that a networking arrangement between the National Database and Registration Authority and the Foreign and Interior ministries for regulating the movement of the foreigners and diplomats would be established and the registration of vehicles and driving licences of foreigners would be brought under the prescribed ambit.
The Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa governments were asked to send recommendations to allow travellers to Afghanistan only through biometric facility.