KABUL (AFP) -Afghanistan said that senior Al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders were hiding in Pakistan”s tribal areas, the latest salvo in a row between the two neighbours over their success in the so-called "war on terror".
The comments by Interior Ministry spokesman Lutfullah Mashal came a day after Pakistan”s interior minister was quoted as saying that Osama bin Laden and other key militants may be in southern Afghanistan.
"We believe that the senior Taliban and Al-Qaeda leaders are still hiding in the tribal belt of Pakistan”s federally controlled tribal area," Mashal told AFP on Wednesday.
US and Afghan officials have long said they think bin Laden and other Al-Qaeda kingpins have been hiding out in the mountains on the frontier between Afghanistan and Pakistan since the Taliban were toppled in late 2001.
Islamabad and Kabul have recently traded accusations about whose side of the border the militants are on, and who is to blame for failing to find them.
Pakistan”s interior minister Aftab Ahmed Sherpao reportedly told state media Tuesday that bin Laden, his deputy Ayman Al-Zawahiri and fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar might be in troubled southern Afghanistan, where the Taliban have stepped up attacks.
However on Wednesday, he said Pakistan did "not have any evidence about Osama”s presence anywhere" and that he had been misquoted.
"I had said that there could be the possibility of his presence in areas under Taliban influence," he told the official Associated Press of Pakistan. "I had not particularly mentioned … any specific area."
Islamabad, a key US ally, has deployed tens of thousands of troops in the lawless tribal regions along the Afghan border and detained some 700 Al-Qaeda-linked insurgents across the country.
More than 18,000 mainly US troops have scoured Afghanistan for bin Laden and Omar but without success.
Last week the Taliban scored one of their most significant victories against the US-led coalition, shooting down a US helicopter in eastern Afghanistan with the loss of all 16 on board.