ISLAMABAD — Pakistan's air force launched retaliatory airstrikes early Thursday in Iran allegedly targeting militant hideouts, an attack that killed at least nine people and further raised tensions between the neighboring nations.
The tit-for-tat attacks Tuesday and Thursday appeared to target two Baluch militant groups with similar separatist goals on both sides of the Iran-Pakistan border. However, the two countries have accused each other of providing safe haven to the groups in their respective territories.
Diplomatic relations in peril
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. Each nation also faces its own internal political pressures — and the strikes may in part be in response to that.
The attacks also come as the Middle East remains 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 in early January.
Pakistan's Foreign Ministry described their attack Thursday as "a series of highly coordinated and specifically targeted precision military strikes."
"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."
Pakistan's caretaker Prime Minister Anwaarul-Haq-Kakar, who is in Switzerland to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos, cut his trip short to return home, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch said. Foreign Minister Jalil Abbas Jilani is also returning home from a trip to Uganda.
A deputy governor of Iran's Sistan and Baluchestan province, Ali Reza Marhamati, gave the casualty figures from Thursday's strike, saying the dead included three women, four children and two men near the town of Saravan along the border in Iran's Sistan and Baluchestan province. He added that the dead were not Iranian citizens and acknowledged a separate blast near Saravan as well.
The Baluch Liberation Army, an ethnic separatist group that's operated in the region since 2000, said in a statement the strikes targeted and killed its people. / AP