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News, November 2011
28 Pakistan Troops Killed, 11 Injured, in NATO Helicopter Attack
Pakistan stops NATO supplies after raid kills up to 28
By Shams Momand
YAKKAGHUND, Pakistan |
Sat Nov 26, 2011 8:58am EST
YAKKAGHUND, Pakistan (Reuters) -
NATO helicopters and fighter jets attacked two military outposts in northwest Pakistan on Saturday, killing as many as 28 troops and plunging U.S.-Pakistan relations, already deeply frayed, further into crisis.
Pakistan retaliated by shutting down vital NATO supply routes into Afghanistan, used for sending in almost half of the alliance's non-lethal materiel.
The attack is the worst single incident of its kind since Pakistan uneasily allied itself with Washington in the days immediately following the Sept 11, 2001 attacks on U.S. targets.
Relations between the United States and Pakistan, its ally in the war on militancy, have been strained following the killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden by U.S. special forces in a raid on the Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad in May, which Pakistan called a flagrant violation of sovereignty.
The Pakistani government and military brimmed with fury.
"This is an attack on Pakistan's sovereignty," said Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani. "We will not let any harm come to Pakistan's sovereignty and solidarity."
The Foreign Office said it would take up the matter "in the strongest terms" with NATO and the United States.
The powerful Chief of Army Staff, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, said in a statement issued by the Pakistani military that "all necessary steps be under taken for an effective response to this irresponsible act.
"A strong protest has been launched with NATO/ISAF in which it has been demanded that strong and urgent action be taken against those responsible for this aggression."
The commander of NATO-led forces in Afghanistan, General John R. Allen, said he had offered his condolences to the family of any Pakistani soldiers who "may have been killed or injured" during an "incident" on the border.
A spokesman for the force declined further comment on the nature of the "incident" and said an investigation was proceeding. It was not yet clear, he said, whether there had been deaths or injuries.
The U.S. embassy in Islamabad also offered condolences.
"I regret the loss of life of any Pakistani servicemen, and pledge that the United States will work closely with Pakistan to investigate this incident," ambassador Cameron Munter said in a statement.
EARLY MORNING ATTACK
Two military officials said that up to 28 troops had been killed and 11 wounded in the attack on the outposts, about 2.5 km (1.5 miles) from the Afghan border. The Pakistani military said 24 troops were killed and 13 wounded.
It remains unclear what exactly happened, but the attack took place around 2 a.m. (2100 GMT) in the Baizai area of Mohmand, where Pakistani troops are fighting Taliban militants.
"Pakistani troops effectively responded immediately in self-defense to NATO/ISAF's aggression with all available weapons," the Pakistani military statement said.
About 40 Pakistani army troops were stationed at the outposts, military sources said. Two officers were reported among the dead.
"The latest attack by NATO forces on our post will have serious repercussions as they without any reasons attacked on our post and killed soldiers asleep," said a senior Pakistani military officer, requesting anonymity.
Reflecting the confusion of war in an ill-defined border area, an Afghan border police official, Edrees Momand, said joint Afghan-NATO troops near the outpost on Saturday morning had detained several militants.
"I am not aware of the casualties on the other side of the border but those we have detained aren't Afghan Taliban," he said, implying they were Pakistani Taliban operating in Afghanistan.
The Afghanistan-Pakistan border is often poorly marked, and differs between maps by up to five miles in some places.
The incident occurred a day after Allen met Kayani to discuss border control and enhanced cooperation.
"After the recent meetings between Pakistan and ISAF/NATO forces to build confidence and trust, these kind of attacks should not have taken place," a senior military source told Reuters.
NATO supply trucks and fuel tankers bound for Afghanistan were stopped at Jamrud town in the Khyber tribal region near the city of Peshawar hours after the raid, officials said.
"We have halted the supplies and some 40 tankers and trucks have been returned from the check post in Jamrud," Mutahir Zeb, a senior government official, told Reuters.
Another official said the supplies had been stopped for security reasons.
"There is possibility of attacks on NATO supplies passing through the volatile Khyber tribal region, therefore we sent them back toward Peshawar to remain safe," he said.
The border crossing at Chaman in Baluchistan was also closed, Frontier Corps officials said.
Pakistan is a vital land route for 49 percent of NATO's supplies to its troops in Afghanistan, a NATO spokesman said.
A similar incident on Sept 30, 2009, which killed two Pakistani troops, led to the closure of one of NATO's supply routes through Pakistan for 10 days.
NATO apologized for that incident, which it said happened when NATO gunships mistook warning shots by the Pakistani forces for a militant attack.
U.S.-Pakistan relations were already reeling from a tumultuous year that saw the bin Laden raid, the jailing of a CIA contractor, and U.S. accusations that Pakistan backed a militant attack on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.
The United States has long suspected Pakistan of continuing to secretly support Taliban militant groups to secure influence in Afghanistan after most NATO troops leave in 2014. Saturday's incident will give Pakistan the argument that NATO is now attacking it directly.
"I think we should go to the United Nations Security Council against this," said retired Brigadier Mahmood Shah, former chief of security in the tribal areas. "So far, Pakistan is being blamed for all that is happening in Afghanistan, and Pakistan's point of view has not been shown in the international media."
Other analysts, including Rustam Shah Mohmand, a former ambassador to Afghanistan, said Pakistan would protest and close the supply lines for some time, but that ultimately "things will get back to normal."
Paul Beaver, a British security analyst, said relations were so bad that this incident might have no noticeable impact.
"I'm not sure U.S.-Pakistan relations could sink much lower than they are now," he said..
(Additional reporting by Bushra Takseen, Saud Mehsud, Jibran Ahmad and Saeed Achakzai in Pakistan, and Hamid Shalizi in Afghanistan; Writing by Augustine Anthony and Chris Allbritton; Editing by Ron Popeski)
Pakistan: 26 troops dead in NATO helicopter attack
By RIAZ KHAN and SEBASTIAN ABBOT Associated Press
November 26, 2011, 7:55 AM EST
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) --
Pakistan on Saturday accused NATO helicopters of firing on two army checkpoints in the country's northwest and killing 26 soldiers, then retaliated by closing the border crossings used by the coalition to supply its troops in neighboring Afghanistan.
The incident Friday night was a major blow to already strained relations between Islamabad and U.S.-led forces fighting in Afghanistan. It will add to perceptions in Pakistan that the American presence in the region is malevolent, and to resentment toward the weak government in Islamabad for its cooperation with Washington.
It comes a little over a year after a similar but less deadly strike, in which U.S. helicopters accidentally killed two Pakistani soldiers near the Afghan border, whom the pilots mistook for insurgents. Pakistan responded by closing the Torkham border crossing to NATO supplies for 10 days until the U.S. apologized.
On Saturday, Pakistan went further, closing both of the country's two border crossings into landlocked Afghanistan. NATO trucks about 30 percent of the non-lethal supplies used by its Afghan-based forces through Pakistan. A short stoppage will have no effect on the war effort, but it is a reminder of the leverage Pakistan has over the United States from the supply routes running through its territory.
NATO said it was investigating an "incident" along the border.
In a statement sent to reporters, the Pakistan military blamed NATO for Friday's attack in the Mohmand tribal area, saying the helicopters "carried out unprovoked and indiscriminate firing" but did not give figures for the dead and injured.
The attack killed 26 soldiers and wounded 14 others, said the governor of the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Masood Kausar.
The helicopters attacked two checkpoints around 1,000 feet apart from each other, one of them twice, and two officers were among the dead, said a government official in Mohmand and a security official in Peshawar, the main city in Pakistan's northwest.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
"Any aggression on the (army) is an aggression against Pakistan," information minister Firdous Aashiq Awan told reporters. "We will not only protest, but we will prove through certain actions that the Pakistani government cannot tolerate this."
Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani said the government was complaining "in the strongest terms" to NATO and the U.S.
A Pakistani customs official told The Associated Press that he received verbal orders Saturday to stop all NATO supplies from crossing the border through Torkham in either direction. The operator of a terminal at the border where NATO trucks park before they cross confirmed the closure. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
Saeed Ahmad, a spokesman for security forces at the other crossing in Chaman in southwest Pakistan, said that his crossing was also blocked following orders "from higher-ups."
The U.S., Pakistan, and Afghan militaries have long wrestled with the technical difficulties of patrolling a line that in many places is disputed or poorly marked.
Friday's incident took place on the same day as a meeting between NATO's Gen. Allen and Pakistan army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani in Islamabad to discuss border operations.
The meeting tackled "coordination, communication and procedures between the Pakistan Army, ISAF (intelligence services) and (the) Afghan Army, aimed at enhancing border control on both sides," according to a statement from the Pakistani side.
The checkpoints that were attacked had been recently set up in Mohmand's Salala village by the army. They were intended to stop Pakistani Taliban militants holed up in Afghanistan from crossing the border and staging attacks, said two local government administrators, Maqsood Hasan and Hamid Khan.
The Pakistani military has blamed Pakistani Taliban militants and their allies for killing dozens of security forces in such cross-border attacks since the summer. Pakistan has criticized Afghan and foreign forces for not doing enough to stop the attacks, which it says have originated from the eastern Afghan provinces of Kunar and Nuristan. The U.S. has largely pulled out of these provinces, leaving the militants in effective control of many areas along the border.
The Afghan government blamed Pakistan for firing hundreds of rockets into eastern Afghanistan earlier this year that killed dozens of people. The Pakistan army has denied it intentionally fired rockets into Afghanistan, but acknowledged that several rounds fired at militants conducting cross-border attacks may have landed over the border.
The U.S. helicopter attack that killed two Pakistani soldiers on Sept. 30 of last year took place south of Mohmand in the Kurram tribal area. A joint U.S.-Pakistan investigation found that Pakistani soldiers fired at the two U.S. helicopters prior to the attack, a move the investigation team said was likely meant to notify the aircraft of their presence after they passed into Pakistani airspace several times.
Pakistan moved swiftly after the attack to close Torkham to NATO. Suspected militants took advantage of the impasse to launch attacks against stranded or rerouted trucks carrying NATO supplies.
Senior U.S. diplomatic and military officials eventually apologized for the attack, saying it could have been prevented with greater coordination between the U.S. and Pakistan. Pakistan responded by reopening the border crossing.
Abbot reported from Islamabad. Associated Press writers Anwarullah Khan in Khar, Pakistan, Matiullah Achakzai in Chaman and Deb Reichmann in Kabul, Afghanistan contributed to this report.
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