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On border, Pakistan-Afghan tensions erupt in gunfire

Bid to stem Taliban crossings has sparked clashes between troops, killing 10 Monday.

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At a time when they are supposed to be targeting their common enemy, the Taliban, Pakistani and Afghan border troops instead turned their guns on each other near Paktia Province on Sunday, leaving eight dead and many more wounded.

On Monday, more violence ensued during a meeting called by US, Pakistani, and Afghan troops to calm the tension. At least one US soldier and one Pakistani soldier were killed, bringing the death toll to 10 and marking the deadliest in a series of tense standoffs over the Durand Line, the 1,500-mile-long border drawn in 1893 by British colonialists.

At a time when both countries are staring down a growing Taliban insurgency inside their borders, the violent escalation is a matter of grave concern for the international community.

"This is the last thing that Afghanistan and Pakistan need – to have their troops fighting against each other," says Samina Ahmed, the South Asia Project Director of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, who says she worries that further escalations are possible. "It ups the ante."

At press time Monday, the details of the violence at the meeting were still a mystery. Afghanistan's Defense Ministry confirmed the incident, saying it took place in the Pakistani town of Parachinar in Kurram agency, just over the border from Afghanistan's Paktia Province. Several Pakistani, Afghan and US officers were attending, as well as a Pakistani provincial governor.

"One of the Pakistani officers shot at the Afghan and US delegation," says Afghan Defence Ministry spokesman Zahir Azimi by telephone from Kabul. He was unable to say what sparked the incident, but added that four coalition helicopters flew to the scene to provide security and remove the injured and dead.

Pakistan offered a different version. "After the meeting ended people were going back to the helicopters and some miscreants opened fire," says Pakistan's military spokesman, Major General Waheed Arshad. "One US soldier and one Pakistani soldier have died, and four U.S. soldiers and four Pakistani soldiers are also injured," he added.

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