Fri, May 07, 2004 - Page 5 News List

US troops crossed border to make a raid inside Pakistan

REUTERS , WASHINGTON

US troops crossed into Pakistani territory from Afghanistan in recent days despite Pakistan expressly prohibiting such actions, but the Pentagon said on Wednesday the incursion was inadvertent.

In Islamabad, a Pakistani Foreign Ministry official said his government had protested to the US a May 2 incursion by US troops into Pakistani territory to hunt suspected al-Qaeda or Taliban militants.

"I can confirm the incident did occur recently," said a US defense official in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"The bottom line is that it was inadvertent. ... And we respect the territorial integrity of Pakistan," the official said.

US forces are conducting an offensive along the rugged Afghan-Pakistani border, seeking to round up al-Qaeda fugitives including Osama bin Laden and Taliban fighters who may be hiding in the remote region. These US forces include special operations troops and CIA paramilitary personnel.

"The border is a very ambiguous line. It's not physically well marked," said the defense official, who added that US, Afghan and Pakistani officials have discussed problems with the ill-defined border in the past.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has made it clear that US troops are not permitted to operate inside Pakistan's borders in the search for al-Qaeda and Taliban fugitives.

US troops searched shops and a gasoline station in the village of Alwara Mandi in North Waziristan, one of Pakistan's semi-autonomous tribal regions, during a night operation, said Pakistani Major-General Shaukat Sultan.

Around 60 US troops drove into Alwara Mandi, which lies a few hundred meters from the frontier with Afghanistan and has a Pakistani forces picket close by, villagers said.

The US troops were in Alwara Mandi for no longer than 25 minutes, Sultan said. Residents said they stayed longer.

The US defense official said the US military spoke with the Pakistani military after the incident. The official also said he did not know whether this was the first time that US troops had crossed the border.

"We have protested to the US authorities, both through the diplomatic and military channels," Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesman Masood Khan said in Islamabad.

"The US version is that this was a misunderstanding, and that the incursion was inadvertent, and once they realized that they were on the Pakistani side of Pakistan-Afghan border they withdrew immediately," he added.

Pakistan has requested that the US authorities conduct an investigation and communicate the results to Islamabad, the spokesman said.

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