NATO attack kills 24 Pakistani soldiers
by The Canadian Press - Story: 67789
Nov 26, 2011 / 7:22 am
Nov 26, 2011 / 7:22 am
Pakistan on Saturday accused NATO helicopters and fighter jets of firing on two army checkpoints in the country's northwest and killing 24 soldiers. Islamabad retaliated by closing the border crossings used by the international coalition to supply its troops in neighbouring Afghanistan.
The incident before dawn Saturday 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 further fuel resentment toward the weak government in Islamabad for its co-operation with Washington.
It comes a little more than a year after a similar but less deadly strike near the Afghan border in which U.S. helicopters accidentally killed two Pakistani 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 border crossings into landlocked Afghanistan. NATO trucks about 30 per cent 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 serves as a reminder of the leverage Pakistan has over the United States from the supply routes running through its territory.
A spokesman for NATO forces in Afghanistan, Brig. Gen. Carsten Jacobson, said it was "highly likely" that close air support called in by Afghan and coalition forces operating in the border area caused Pakistani casualties. NATO is investigating the incident to determine the exact details, he told BBC television.
Gen. John Allen, the top overall commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, said in a statement that his "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."
Much of the violence in Afghanistan 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. The militants, however, sometimes fire artillery and rockets across the line, reportedly from locations close to Pakistani army posts.
American officials have repeatedly accused Pakistani forces of supporting, or turning a blind eye, to militants using its territory for cross-border attacks. The border issue is the major source of tension between Islamabad and Washington, which wants to stabilize Afghanistan and withdraw its combat troops there by the end of 2014.
Pakistan army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani "strongly condemned" the alleged attack on the two checkpoints, calling it a "blatant and unacceptable act," according to an army statement. It said the "unprovoked" attack was carried out by NATO helicopters and fighter jets, killing 24 soldiers and wounding 13 others. Pakistani soldiers responded in self-defence "with all available weapons," said the statement.
The two checkpoints were around 1,000 feet apart, and one of them was attacked twice, said a government official in Mohmand and a security official in Peshawar, the main city in Pakistan's northwest. Two officers were among the dead, they said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.
The attack happened around 2 a.m. on Saturday, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani told reporters.