ISLAMABAD, Pakistan —
Pakistan’s air force launched retaliatory airstrikes early Thursday on Iran, allegedly targeting militant hideouts in 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.
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 those.
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 more than 90 people in early January.
Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry described the country’s retaliatory 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 military described using “killer drones, rockets, loitering munitions and standoff weapons” in the attack. Standoff weapons are missiles fired from aircraft at a distance — likely meaning that Pakistan’s fighter jets didn’t enter Iranian airspace.
Pakistani caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar, who is in Switzerland to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos, cut his trip short to return home.
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 province’s border with Pakistan. He added that the dead were not Iranian citizens.
The Baluch Liberation Army, an ethnic separatist group that’s operated in the region since 2000, said in a statement that the strikes had targeted and killed its people.
“Pakistan has martyred innocent Baluch people,” it said.
Pakistan’s military also said the strikes hit targets associated with the Baluchistan Liberation Front, though that group did not acknowledge the claim.
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. It shared videos of a destroyed mud-walled building and smoke rising immediately after the airstrike.
Iran later summoned Pakistan’s charge d’affaires in the country. Pakistan already had withdrawn its ambassador over Tuesday’s attack.
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