Pakistan protested and U.S. officials expressed regret after reports that helicopters of the U.S.-led NATO force in Afghanistan killed at least 24 Pakistani troops at a border post.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani “strongly condemned” the attack and ordered the Foreign Ministry to address the incident “in the strongest terms” with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the U.S., his spokesman said in an e- mailed statement. Gilani also called an emergency meeting of the country’s defense committee.
Army Chief of Staff Ashfaq Kayani said the attack was a “blatant and unacceptable act,” and demanded urgent action against those responsible. The attack is at least the fourth on a Pakistan border facility by NATO forces in 15 months, and earlier raids led Pakistan to temporarily shut NATO supply routes to Afghanistan across its territory.
The U.S. and Pakistani governments have been trying to stabilize their relationship after a year that included Pakistan’s detention of a CIA contract employee for killing two Pakistanis, the U.S. raid that that killed Osama bin Laden in May, and public accusations by top U.S. officials that Pakistan’s army is actively aiding militant groups that the U.S. defines as terrorist.
“This incident puts General Kayani in a very difficult position among his troops,” Talat Masood, a retired army lieutenant general and security analyst in Islamabad, said in an interview. “I don’t think both allies will go to the tipping point, but it makes things even worse at a time when the Obama administration was trying to restore a working relationship with Pakistan after the Osama bin Laden incident.”
In yesterday’s attack, NATO helicopters and a fighter aircraft fired at Pakistani border posts on the mountainous border between Afghanistan’s Kunar province and the Pakistani border district of Mohmand, according to a statement posted on the Pakistani army’s website.
NATO oversees the International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, in Afghanistan. The incident “has my highest personal attention and my commitment to thoroughly investigate it to determine the facts,” said the ISAF commander, Gen. John R. Allen, in an e-mail. “My most sincere and personal heartfelt condolences go out to the families and loved ones of any members of Pakistan Security Forces who may have been killed or injured.”
Cameron Munter, the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, said “the United States will work closely with Pakistan to investigate this incident,” according to a statement from his embassy.
It’s “highly likely” that NATO aircraft conducted a raid, the British Broadcasting Corp. said, citing an interview with spokesman Brigadier-General Carsten Jacobson. NATO is investigating how the incident happened and has sent condolences for it, Jacobson told the BBC.
In September 2010, U.S. forces attacked into the border districts of Kurram and North Waziristan, killing what Pakistan said were several of members of its paramilitary Frontier Corps, an army-led force that guards much of the border. Pakistan closed its frontier for 10 days to the NATO-contracted trucks that haul food, uniforms, construction material and other “non- lethal” supplies from its port of Karachi into Afghanistan. Pakistan re-opened the border after a joint investigation with U.S. officials and a NATO apology for the attacks.
Afghan and Pakistani Taliban factions regularly attack U.S. and other NATO forces from their bases in Pakistan and try to slip back across the frontier for protection from NATO retaliation. ISAF has at times asserted a right of “hot pursuit” of Taliban guerrillas into Pakistani territory, while Pakistan has objected, calling such actions a violation of its sovereignty.
The Pakistan-Afghanistan border passes through rugged mountains and desert terrain and is unmarked over most of its more than 2,600-kilometer (1,600-mile) length. The two countries dispute the border’s location in many areas.
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