Posts Tagged ‘Pakistani territory’

Pakistan troop fire turns back U.S. helicopters

September 15, 2008

Zeeshan Haider | Reuters North American News Service, Sep 15, 2008

ISLAMABAD, Sept 15 (Reuters) – Firing by Pakistani troops forced two U.S. military helicopters to turn back to Afghanistan after they crossed into Pakistani territory early on Monday, Pakistani security officials said.

The incident took place near Angor Adda, a village in the tribal region of South Waziristan where U.S. commandos in helicopters raided a suspected al Qaeda and Taliban camp earlier this month.

“The U.S. choppers came into Pakistan by just 100 to 150 metres at Angor Adda. Even then our troops did not spare them, opened fire on them and they turned away,” said one security official.

The U.S. and Pakistani military both denied that account, but Angor Adda villagers and officials supported it.

Pakistan is a crucial U.S. ally in its war on terrorism, and its support is key to the success of Western forces trying to stabilise Afghanistan. But Washington has become impatient over Islamabad’s response to the threat from al Qaeda and Taliban fighters in Pakistan’s tribal regions on the border.

At least 20 people, including women and children, were killed in the South Waziristan raid earlier this month, sparking outrage in Pakistan and prompting a diplomatic protest.

Pakistani army chief General Ashfaq Kayani said in a strongly worded statement last week that Pakistan would not allow foreign troops onto its soil and Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity would be defended at all costs.

Another security official said on Monday that U.S. armoured vehicles were also seen moving on the Afghan side of the border, while U.S. warplanes were seen overhead.

He said Pakistani soldiers sounded a bugle call and fired in the air, forcing the helicopters to return to Afghan territory.

CONFLICTING VERSIONS

Military spokesman Major Murad Khan confirmed that there had been shooting. But he said the American helicopters had not crossed into Pakistani airspace and Pakistani troops were not responsible for the firing.

“The U.S. choppers were there at the border, but they did not violate our airspace,” Khan said.

“We confirm that there was a firing incident at the time when the helicopters were there, but our forces were not involved.”

A spokesman for the U.S. military at Bagram Airbase, north of Kabul, said its forces had not reported any such incident.

“The unit in the area belongs to the (U.S.-led) coalition. They are not reporting any such incident,” the U.S. military spokesman said.

But the official denials were contradicted by Pakistani civilian officials and villagers in Angor Adda.

One official told Reuters by telephone that “the troops stationed at BP-27 post fired at the choppers and they turned away”.

Two Chinook helicopters appeared set to land when troops began shooting, alerting tribesmen who also opened fire on the intruders, said a senior government official in Peshawar, the capital of North West Frontier Province.

A resident described the tension in the village through the night. “We saw helicopters flying all over the area. We stayed awake the whole night after the incident,” he said.

The fiercely independent tribesmen of the region carry weapons regardless of whether they are militants.

PAKISTAN ARMY FIGHTING MILITANTS

The New York Times newspaper reported last week that U.S. President George W. Bush has given clearance for U.S. raids across the border.

The raid on Angor Adda on Sept. 3 was the first overt ground incursion by U.S. troops into Pakistan since the deployment of U.S. forces in Afghanistan in late 2001.

The United States has intensified attacks by missile-firing drone aircraft on suspected al Qaeda and Taliban targets in Pakistani tribal lands in the past few weeks.

Despite apparent U.S. frustration with Pakistan, the Pakistani army has been involved in fierce fighting with Islamist militants in Bajaur, another tribal region, and Swat, a valley in North West Frontier Province, close to the tribal lands.

Pakistani forces, using helicopter gunships and artillery, killed at least 16 fighters and wounded 25 in Bajaur on Sunday. More than 750 militants have been killed in an offensive there that began in late August.

The U.S. pressure comes at an awkward time for President Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. Zardari was elected on Sept. 6, having forced former army chief Pervez Musharraf to quit last month, almost nine years after Musharraf took power in a coup.

The new Pakistani president is in London and due to meet Prime Minister Gordon Brown to talk over the border situation.

Bush held a video conference with Brown last week to discuss a new strategy for the lawless Pakistan-Afghanistan frontier.

Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani have both endorsed the stand taken by General Kayani. (Additional reporting by Alamgir Bitani; Writing by Simon Cameron-Moore; Editing by Paul Tait)

Source: Reuters North American News Service

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Bush secret order to send special forces into Pakistan

September 12, 2008

· White House seeks British backing

· Fear of escalating regional conflict

An observation overlooks the mountains on the Pakistan border

An observation post sits in the mountains over looking Speray on one side, and the Pakistan border on the other. Photograph: John D McHugh

A secret order issued by George Bush giving US special forces carte blanche to mount counter-terrorist operations inside Pakistani territory raised fears last night that escalating conflict was spreading from Afghanistan to Pakistan and could ignite a region-wide war.

The unprecedented executive order, signed by Bush in July after an intense internal administration debate, comes amid western concern that the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan and its al-Qaida backers based in “safe havens” in western Pakistan’s tribal belt is being lost.

Following Bush’s decision, US navy Seals commandos, backed by attack helicopters, launched a ground raid into Pakistan last week which the US claimed killed about two dozen insurgents. Pakistani officials condemned the raid as illegal and said most of the dead were civilians. US and Nato commanders are anxious to halt infiltration across the Afghanistan-Pakistan border of insurgents and weapons blamed for casualties among coalition troops. The killing of a US soldier in eastern Afghanistan yesterday brought American losses in 2008 to 112, the deadliest year since the 2001 intervention. The move is regarded as unprecedented in terms of sending troops into a friendly, allied country.

But another American objective is the capture of Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaida leader held responsible for organising the 9/11 attacks. He and his second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, are thought to be hiding in the tribal areas of north and south Waziristan.

Bush’s decision to extend the war into Pakistan, and his apparent hope of British backing, formed the background to a video conference call with Gordon Brown yesterday. “What’s happening on the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan is something where we need to develop a new strategy,” Brown said before talking to Bush.

Brown said he would discuss the border issue with Pakistan’s new president, Asif Ali Zardari, who visits Britain next week.

Bush’s unusual move in personally calling the prime minister for an Afghan strategy discussion has led to speculation that the US president was trying to line up British support for the new policy, including the possible involvement of British special forces in future cross-border incursions.

Bush’s executive order is certain to cause strains with some Nato allies fearful that a spreading conflict could bring down Pakistan’s weak civilian government and spark a wider war. Last night there were indications of open disagreement.

James Appathurai, a Nato spokesman, said the alliance did not support cross-border attacks or deeper incursions in to Pakistani territory.

“The Nato policy, that is our mandate, ends at the border. There are no ground or air incursions by Nato forces into Pakistani territory,” he said.

Nato has 53,000 troops in Afghanistan, some of which are American. But the US maintains a separate combat force dedicated to battling al-Qaida and counter-terrorism in general. Nato defence ministers are due to discuss Afghanistan in London next week.

Last week’s raid, and a subsequent attack on Monday by a Predator drone firing Hellfire missiles, provoked protests across the board in Pakistan, with only Zardari among leading politicians refusing to publicly condemn it.

Pakistan’s armed forces chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, said the army would defend the country’s sovereignty “at all costs”. He went on: “No external force is allowed to conduct operations inside Pakistan.”

He denied there was any agreement or understanding to the contrary. His comments were widely interpreted as a warning to Zardari not to submit to the American importunity. But his tough words also raised the prospect of clashes between US and Pakistani forces if American military incursions continue or escalate.

Until now, Washington has regarded Pakistan as a staunch ally in the “war on terror” that was launched in 2001. But the alliance has been weakened by last month’s forced resignation of the army strongman, former general Pervez Musharraf, and his replacement by Zardari, Benazir Bhutto’s widower.

Polls suggest most Pakistanis favour ending all counter-terrorism cooperation with Washington, which is blamed for a rising civilian casualty toll in Afghanistan and in the tribal areas.

Yousaf Raza Gilani, Pakistan’s prime minister, joined the chorus of condemnation yesterday. He reportedly told state media Kayani’s warning that unilateral US actions were undermining the fight against Islamist extremism represented the government’s position.

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs, and Robert Gates, defence secretary, told Congress this week that victory in Afghanistan was by no means certain and the US needed to take the fight to the enemy inside Pakistan.

Mullen called for a “more comprehensive strategy” embracing both sides of the border. “Until we work more closely with the Pakistani government to eliminate the safe havens from which they operate, the enemy will only keep coming,” he said.

US and Pakistani forces have clashed by accident in the past during operations to root out militants, although sections of the Pakistani military and intelligence services are said to harbour deep resentment about perceived American interference.


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