KABUL (AFP) — Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Sunday threatened to attack Taliban insurgents on Pakistani soil, saying his war-torn country had a right to do so out of "self-defence".
The warning came just days after US-led forces carried out an air strike in Pakistan's lawless tribal belt bordering Afghanistan. Washington says it was targeting militants, but Pakistan says 11 of its soldiers were killed.
It also came two days after more than 1,100 prisoners including hundreds of militants escaped from a jail in restive southern Kandahar -- the birthplace of the Taliban movement -- in a daring attack staged by the insurgents.
"Afghanistan has the right to destroy terrorist nests on the other side of the border in self-defence," Karzai told a news conference in Kabul.
"When they cross the border from Pakistan to come and kill Afghans and coalition troops, it gives us exactly the right to go back and do the same," he added, in his toughest comments yet on stamping out militancy along the border.
Afghanistan and Pakistan, both key US allies in the "war on terror", have bickered for years about the extremist violence growing in both countries, with each accusing the other of not doing enough to fight it.
Karzai has repeatedly accused the Pakistani government of failing to prevent insurgents active in the tribal zone from slipping into Afghanistan.
The Afghan leader sent a specific warning to fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Omar and Pakistan Taliban warlord Baitullah Mehsud, whom Islamabad believes was responsible for the December assassination of former premier Benazir Bhutto.
"Baitullah Mehsud should know that we will go after him now and hit him in his house," said Karzai.
Mehsud has vowed to continue "jihad" (holy war) in Afghanistan while pursuing peace negotiations with the new government in Islamabad -- an initiative that has sparking growing unease in Washington and Kabul.
In talks with Karzai earlier this month in Kabul, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi insisted that Islamabad was not negotiating with "terrorists" but rather "peace-loving" elements that want regional stability.
Pakistan has already signed a peace deal with pro-Taliban militants led by Maulana Fazlullah in the Swat Valley, about 99 kilometres (55 miles) from Afghanistan.
That has seen soldiers leave the area and the rebels implementing Islamic Sharia law.
"Fazlullah and Mehsud or any one behind them must know this, that today's Afghanistan is not the voiceless Afghanistan of yesterday. Today it has both the voice, the tools and courage for action," Karzai said.
"We'll defeat them and we'll avenge all that they've done in Afghanistan for the past so many years," he said.
Despite the presence of about 70,000 international troops mainly operating under NATO, the insurgency aimed at toppling the US-backed government in Kabul has gained pace in the past two years.
US-led forces in Afghanistan have come under criticism in Islamabad for carrying out cross-border strikes like the one last week which the coalition said was targeting rebels who had sought refuge across the border in Pakistan.
Islamabad says its soldiers were killed in a "cowardly" attack, one which has strained ties between the allies. Washington has expressed regret over the loss of Pakistani life, but has not admitted responsibility for the 11 deaths.
Karzai's government suffered a blow on Friday when Taliban militants blasted open the prison in Kandahar city, freeing more than 1,100 prisoners including hundreds of insurgents, according to NATO-led forces.
Afghan authorities put the number of prisoners who fled at 886, more than 380 of whom were Taliban.
More than 15 insurgents were killed as Afghan and international troops hunted for the escapees, police and troops said Sunday, but it was not immediately clear if they were escaped prisoners.
So far, 20 escapees have been recaptured, police say.
The prison raid came one day after world donors pledged 20 billion dollars to rebuild Afghanistan at a conference in Paris -- but also called on him to strengthen the rule of law.
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