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Pakistan launches retaliatory airstrikes on Iran after attack

The attacks have increased worry about the threat of violence spreading in a Middle East unsettled by Israel's war with Hamas.
Pakistan launches retaliatory airstrikes on Iran after attack
Posted at 12:52 AM, Jan 18, 2024

Pakistan's air force launched retaliatory airstrikes early Thursday on Iran allegedly targeting militant positions, an attack that killed at least seven people and further raised tensions between the neighboring nations.

The strikes in Sistan and Baluchestan province follow Iran's attack Tuesday on Pakistani soil that killed two children in the southwestern Baluchistan province.

The strikes imperil diplomatic relations between the two neighbors, as Iran and nuclear-armed Pakistan have long regarded each other with suspicion over militant attacks.

The attacks also raised the threat of violence spreading in a Middle East unsettled by Israel's war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Iran also staged airstrikes late Monday in Iraq and Syria over an Islamic State-claimed suicide bombing that killed over 90 people earlier this month. Iraq has recalled its ambassador from Iran for consultations.

Pakistan's Foreign Ministry described their attack as "a series of highly coordinated and specifically targeted precision military strikes."

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"This morning's action was taken in light of credible intelligence of impending large scale terrorist activities," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. "This action is a manifestation of Pakistan's unflinching resolve to protect and defend its national security against all threats."

Several insurgent groups operate in Iran and Pakistan, including the Jaish al-Adl Sunni separatist group that was targeted by Tehran in its own strike. They all have a common goal of an independent Baluchistan for ethnic Baluch areas in Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan.

Pakistan's Baluchistan province, as well as Iran's neighboring Sistan and Baluchestan province, have faced a low-level insurgency by Baluch nationalists for more than two decades.

Pakistan named its operation "Marg Bar Sarmachar." In Iranian Farsi, "marg bar" means "death to" — and is a famous saying in Iran since its 1979 Islamic Revolution used to refer to both the United States and Israel. In the local Baluch language, "sarmachar" means guerrilla and is used by the militants operating in the cross-border region.

A deputy governor of Iran's Sistan and Baluchestan province, Ali Reza Marhamati, gave the casualty figures from Thursday's strike in a telephone interview, saying the dead included three women and four children. He did not immediately elaborate, other than to say that the dead were not Iranian citizens.

HalVash, an advocacy group for the Baluch people, shared images online that appeared to show the remains of the munitions used in the attack. It said a number of homes had been struck in Saravan, a city in Iran's Sistan and Baluchestan province. It shared videos showing a mud-walled building destroyed and smoke rising over the strike immediately after.

Thursday's development came a day after Pakistan recalled its ambassador to Tehran because of Tuesday's strikes by Iran inside Pakistan's southwestern Baluchistan province. Iran claimed it targeted bases for a militant Sunni separatist group. It drew strong condemnation from Pakistan, which denounced the attack as a "blatant violation" of its airspace and said it killed two children.

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