In an expansion of hostilities rippling through the region, Pakistan said on Thursday that it had carried out airstrikes inside Iran, a day after Iranian forces attacked what they said were militant camps in Pakistan.
The Pakistani Foreign Affairs Ministry said that the country’s forces had conducted “precision military strikes” against what it called terrorist hide-outs in southeastern Iran. Iranian officials said that nine people had been killed, including four children, and Pakistani officials said the death toll of the Iranian strikes included at least two children.
A senior Pakistani security official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Pakistan had struck at least seven locations used by separatists from the Baluch ethnic group about 30 miles inside the Iranian border. The official said that air force fighter jets and drones had been used in the Pakistani retaliatory strikes.
Pakistan’s strikes came a day after Iran’s surprise attacks within the borders of Pakistan and Iraq, which Iran said were aimed at militant training camps and a response to domestic terrorism. Iranian forces had hit inside Pakistan before, but Pakistan’s strikes marked the first time since the end of the Iran-Iraq war, more than 30 years ago, that Iran’s airspace had been violated by another country’s attacks.
In a statement, Iran’s Foreign Ministry strongly condemned the attacks, calling them “unbalanced and unacceptable,” and saying that the Islamic Republic “considers the security of its people and its territorial integrity as a red line.”
Iran’s minister of interior, Ahmad Vahidi, said nine people had been killed in the attacks, including four children and three women. Speaking to state television, he said that the people were from Pakistan and not Iranian citizens, and that they had been killed when their homes, near the town of Saravan a few kilometers from the Pakistan border, were hit by the strikes.
But the Foreign Ministry also appeared to try to defuse tensions. It referred to Pakistan as a friendly neighbor, said that Iran did not want to “allow enemies to strain the amicable and brotherly relations of Tehran and Islamabad” and said that it distinguished between the government of Pakistan, an ally, and terrorist groups operating within its borders.
The strikes in Pakistan, the ministry said, were meant to thwart a terrorist threat. The ministry said that, on Jan. 16, the border task force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps had intercepted a terrorist group’s plans to infiltrate the border from Pakistan in order to carry out an attack similar to one in the city of Rask in December, when 10 border officers were killed.
An emboldened Iran has been using its proxy forces against Israel and that country’s allies since the war in Gaza began in October after the Hamas-led attacks on Israel. Those actions, and now the attacks by Iran on other countries in the region, have increased the risk that the upheaval washing over the Middle East could grow. Iran has been trying to project strength after recent attacks inside its borders made it look vulnerable.
One of Iran’s proxies, the Houthi militia in Yemen, has gained attention in the region with its attacks on vessels in Red Sea shipping lanes that link to the Suez Canal. The leader of the Houthis declared on Thursday that a direct clash with the United States would only strengthen the group and vowed to continue attacking commercial ships.
Responding to the continued attacks, the United States, for the fifth time in a week, struck Houthi anti-ship missiles in Yemen on Thursday, underlining the growing volatility in the region and U.S. involvement.
The tensions have also grown around Israel’s northern borders, where Israel has clashed with another Iran-backed group, Hezbollah. Asked at a news conference on Thursday about Israel’s efforts to counter Iran’s proxies rather than Iran itself, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu contested the premise. “Who told you we weren’t attacking Iran?” he said. “We’re attacking!”
Pakistan, which is grappling with political and economic troubles, indicated on Thursday that it did not want further escalations in its clash with Iran. In a statement, the Pakistani military called the two neighbors “brotherly countries” and said that “dialogue and cooperation is deemed prudent in resolving bilateral issues” between them.
Syed Muhammad Ali, a security analyst based in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, said in an interview that Pakistan could not have left Iran’s strike unanswered.
“A calculated and timely response was necessary to negate an Iranian misperception that an unprovoked, surprise military attack on Pakistan will not yield a strong but calibrated and swift response,” he said.
He added that the two sides had strong incentives to let the tensions cool now that Pakistan had responded, “as both countries will not gain anything from any further military exchange or escalation.”
In careful statements issued on Thursday, Pakistani officials refrained from directly accusing Iran. Pakistan’s narrative mirrored Iran’s rationale for its own strikes, saying that the Pakistani actions similarly targeted only separatists who had taken refuge across the border.
Pakistani military analysts were hopeful that this could pave the way for diplomatic dialogue between the two nations. Waqar Hasan, a retired army brigadier based in Islamabad, stressed the precision and care with which Pakistan had conducted its targeting in Iran. “Pakistan and Iran need to move forward,” he said. “I think the situation can de-escalate now.”
After Iran’s strike in Pakistan, Iranian officials said that the attack had been aimed at militants who threatened Iran, but the Pakistani authorities rejected that account, citing what they said were civilian casualties from the strike.
Pakistan denounced the Iranian strike as a blatant violation of international law and warned on Wednesday that it “reserves the right to respond.”
Pakistan has long maintained that Baluch separatists, who have waged a low-level insurgency in Baluchistan Province in southwestern Pakistan for decades, have hide-outs across the border in Iran. Iran has also accused Pakistan of not doing enough to contain militants who have targeted Iranian security.
Sistan-Baluchestan, the province struck by Pakistan, is home to an ethnic Baluch and Sunni minority and is among the most impoverished areas of Iran. The province’s governor’s office told Iranian state television that Pakistan’s drones hit targets in villages near the border around 4.30 a.m. local time, and that four residential homes had been destroyed. In the villages attacked, pictures and videos featured in Iranian news media showed, crowds had gathered around mud-brick houses that had been reduced to rubble.
The central government of Iran has long clashed with ethnic Baluch and militant armed separatist groups that operate from the area and occasionally carry out terrorist attacks. On such group, Jish al-Adl, on Wednesday claimed that it had assassinated a colonel in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards on a road near the border.
Iranian officials have played up their military capabilities in recent days in a show of strength against rivals, like Israel, and terrorist groups. Iranian forces on Thursday carried out an exercise with dozens of warplanes and drones, according to state media, over a southern region of about 3,700 miles, from the eastern shores of the Persian Gulf to the western shores of the Sea of Oman.
Vivian Nereim contributed reporting from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.