Pakistan Angry as Strike by U.S. Kills 11 Soldiers
Killing of Pakistani soldiers by America led Nato forces have angered residents of frontier town of Pakistan bordering Afghnistan.Dead soldiers include a major were belonging to the Mohmand Rifles. The incident has infuriated the Pakistani government and they summoned American ambassdor and reprimanded him.
American air and artillery strikes killed 11 Pakistani paramilitary soldiers during a clash with insurgents on the Afghan border on Tuesday night, a development that raised concerns about the already strained American relationship with Pakistan.
The strikes underscored the often faulty communications involving American, Pakistani and Afghan forces along the border, and the ability of Taliban fighters and other insurgents to use havens in Pakistan to carry out attacks into neighboring Afghanistan.
The attack comes at a time of rising tension between the United States and the new government in Pakistan, which has granted wide latitude to militants in its border areas under a new series of peace deals, drawing criticism from the United States.
NATO and American commanders say cross-border attacks in Afghanistan by insurgents have risen sharply since talks for those peace deals began in March.
Although Pakistani government officials softened their response through the day on Wednesday, the Pakistani military released an early statement calling the airstrikes “unprovoked and cowardly.”
Shaken by the initial Pakistani reaction, administration officials braced for at least a short-term rough patch in relations with Islamabad.
“It won’t be good,” said a Pentagon official who followed developments closely throughout the day. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
The precise circumstances surrounding the reported deaths remained unclear, and American officials said an American-Pakistani investigation was expected to begin immediately.
But according to accounts from American officials, the incident started when Taliban fighters from Pakistan crossed about 200 yards into Kunar Province, on the Afghan side of the border, and attacked American-led forces with small-caliber weapons and rocket-propelled grenade fire.
After coalition forces returned fire, driving the insurgents back into Pakistan, two United States Air Force F-15E fighter-bombers and one B-1 bomber dropped about a dozen bombs — mostly 500-pound munitions — on the attackers. An Air Force statement said the militants were struck “in the open and in buildings in the vicinity of Asadabad.”
A spokesman for the Taliban said their forces had attacked an American and Afghan position near the border, and said eight of their fighters had been killed and nine wounded in the fighting.
Before the airstrike, a Pentagon official said, American forces alerted a Pakistani military liaison officer, trying to ensure that friendly troops were out of harm’s way.
But the Pakistani officer was either unaware that Pakistani paramilitary forces had moved into the area near the insurgents, or the Pakistani forces never got the word to get out of the way, American officials said.
“They got caught in the wrong place at the wrong time,” the Pentagon official said.
Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani of Pakistan denounced the attack in Parliament and said he had instructed the Foreign Ministry to make a formal protest to the American ambassador, Anne Patterson.
But the Pentagon press secretary, Geoff Morrell, told reporters in Washington that “every indication we have at this stage is that it was a legitimate strike in self-defense.” American rules of engagement bar American forces from crossing or firing into Pakistan except to protect themselves.
By Wednesday afternoon, Pakistan’s new ambassador to Washington, Husain Haqqani, had softened his government’s reaction, telling Reuters, “We do look upon it as not an act that should cause us to reconsider our partnership but rather to find ways of improving that partnership.”
Seth Jones, an analyst with the RAND Corporation who was conducting research in Kunar Province last week, said: “It’s almost surprising more of this hasn’t happened given the vast amount of traffic across the border. This creates a real serious impetus for the U.S. to coordinate more closely with Pakistan forces.”
American officials in Pakistan and in Washington, while expressing regret for the Pakistani deaths, said the episode underscored the need to improve the equipping of and coordination with Pakistani security forces operating near the border, including the Frontier Corps, a paramilitary force of about 85,000 members recruited from ethnic groups on the border.
American and Pakistani officials say the Frontier Corps, which is drawn from Pashtun tribesmen who know the language and culture of the tribal areas, is the most suitable force to combat an insurgency over the long term in the border region, where the regular Pakistani military often is not welcomed.
It was unclear whether the Pakistan liaison officer involved in the airstrike on Tuesday was from the Pakistani Army or the Frontier Corps, an important distinction because the two security forces have not always worked together smoothly, American officials said.
Gonzalo Gallegos, a State Department spokesman in Washington, said, “This is a reminder that better cross-border communications between forces is vital.”
The Pentagon has spent about $25 million so far to equip the Frontier Corps with new body armor, vehicles, radios and surveillance equipment, and plans to spend $75 million more in the next year.
Over all, administration officials have said the United States could spend more than $400 million in the next several years to enhance the Frontier Corps, including building a training base near Peshawar.
Until recently, the Frontier Corps had not received American military financing because the corps technically falls under the Pakistani Interior Ministry, a nonmilitary agency that the Pentagon ordinarily does not deal with.
Gen. David D. McKiernan, the new NATO commander in Afghanistan, said last week that one of his first trips as commander would be to meet with the Pakistani Army’s chief of staff, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, to try to resurrect a commission created by NATO and the Afghan and Pakistani militaries to address border issues. In recent months, Pakistan has not taken part in the commission.
The United States, which has about 34,000 military personnel in Afghanistan, part of an international presence totaling about 60,000, is also in the midst of building six border coordination posts that will be operated by Pakistani, American and other allied forces.
At the Pentagon, Mr. Morrell said, “It is incumbent upon both of us not to let an incident like this or any other interfere with that fundamental shared goal of making sure the F.A.T.A. is not a refuge for terrorists.” He was referring to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, the contested border area.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was expected to discuss the event with her Pakistani counterpart on Thursday at the Afghan donors conference in Paris, American officials said.
There have been several American strikes recently on insurgents inside Pakistani territory. In March, three bombs, apparently dropped by an American aircraft, killed nine people and wounded nine others in the tribal area of South Waziristan that officials say provides sanctuary to Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
In late January, one of Osama bin Laden’s top lieutenants, Abu Laith al-Libi, was killed by two Hellfire missiles launched from a Predator surveillance aircraft.