NATO choppers kill up to 28 Pakistani troops


in Uncategorized 


NATO aircraft attacked a military checkpoint in northwest Pakistan on Saturday, killing up to 28 troops and prompting Pakistan to shut the vital supply route for NATO troops fighting in Afghanistan, Pakistani officials said.

The attack comes as relations between the United States and Pakistan — its ally in the war on militancy — are already badly strained following the killing of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden by U.S. special forces in a secret raid on the Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad in May.

In a statement sent to reporters, the Pakistan military blamed NATO for Friday’s attack in the Mohmand tribal area, saying helicopters “carried out unprovoked and indiscriminate firing.”   Pakistan called that raid a flagrant violation of its territory.

“Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani has condemned in the strongest terms the NATO/ISAF attack on the Pakistani post,”  Pakistan foreign ministry spokeswoman Tehmina Janjua said in a statement.

“On his direction, the matter is being taken (up) by the foreign ministry in the strongest terms with NATO and the U.S.,” the spokesman said.   NBC News reported that Gilani cut short a visit to the southern Pakistani city of Multan and returned to the capital Islamabad Saturday and summoned the cabinet’s Defense Committee “to formulate a response of the government” following the attack, according to a statement issued by his office.  

‘Cannot be tolerated’

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.”   Masood Kasur, the governor of Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, said the raid was “an attack on Pakistan’s territorial sovereignty.”   “Such cross-border attacks cannot be tolerated any more. The government will take up this matter at the highest level and it will be investigated,” he said.   Two military officials told Reuters that up to 28 troops had been killed and 11 wounded in the attack on the Salala checkpoint, about 1.5 miles from the Afghan border in the Baizai area of Mohmand, where Pakistani troops are fighting Taliban militants.

However, a Pakistan Army statement put the death toll at 24 with 13 injured. It said that Pakistan troops had “responded immediately in self defense to NATO/ISAF’s aggression with all available weapons.”   The army statement said NATO helicopters and fighter aircraft were involved in the attack, which took place around 2 a.m. Saturday local time (4 p.m. Friday ET).   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.

U.S. regret

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.

Colonel Gary Kolb, spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Kabul, said the aircraft were taking part in a strike that was a coordinated effort with ISAF, Pakistani military and the Pakistani border authorities, NBC News reported.

He said they had responded to small arms fire, according to NBC News. Asked to confirm that it was retaliatory, he said yes.

ISAF was still determining the exact circumstances. “This has the highest priority to ensure that we get all the facts straight,” Kolb said, NBC News reported.

He noted that even if some of supply routes through Pakistan were closed, there were “contingencies built into the system” to deal with these types of disruptions.   About 40 Pakistani army troops were stationed at the outpost, military sources said. Two officers were reported among the dead.

A senior Pakistani military officer said efforts were under way to bring the bodies of the slain soldiers to Ghalanai, the headquarters of Mohmand tribal region.

“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,” he said, requesting anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

40 trucks halted 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 towards Peshawar to remain safe,” he said.

Much of the violence in Afghanistan against Afghan, NATO and U.S. troops is carried out by insurgents that are based just across the border in Pakistan.

Coalition forces are not allowed to cross the frontier to attack the militants, which sometimes fire artillery and rockets across the line.

American officials have repeatedly accused Pakistani forces of supporting — or turning a blind eye — to militants using its territory for cross-border attacks.

The Afghanistan-Pakistan border is often poorly marked, and differs between maps by up to five miles in some places.

Pakistan is a vital land route for 49 percent of NATO’s supplies to its troops in Afghanistan, a NATO spokesman said.

This raid is the largest and most serious incident of its kind. 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.   The attack is expected to further worsen U.S.-Pakistan relations, already at one of their lowest points in history, following 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.

An increase in U.S. drone strikes on militants in the last few years has also irritated Islamabad, which says the campaign kills more Pakistani civilians in the border area than activists. Washington disputes that, but declines to discuss the drone campaign in detail.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *