Sat, Jun 14, 2008 - Page 5 News List

Pakistan protests to NATO over US border air raid

DPA AND AP , ISLAMABAD AND BRUSSELS

Pakistan has protested to NATO over an "unprovoked and senseless" airstrike that killed its 11 soldiers deployed at a post along the Afghan border.

The protest was lodged by Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi in his meeting with NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer on the sidelines of Paris conference on Afghanistan.

“The attack is a blatant and willful negation of the sacrifices Pakistan has made in the war against terrorism,” a Pakistani government statement quoted Qureshi as saying.

The Pakistani border post came under fire in the remote tribal district of Mohmand Agency late on Tuesday when US planes targeted Taliban fighters fleeing after an attack on Afghan and NATO forces.

Eleven personnel from the paramilitary Frontier Corps were killed and 13 were injured. The Taliban claimed that eight of their comrades also died in the airstrike, fueling anger in Pakistan.

Scheffer refused to comment on the airstrike, but said that he and Qureshi had “agreed that what we need with Pakistan is first of all a strengthening of military-to-military dialogue, [and] secondly, that we do need also a more mature political dialogue between Pakistan and the international community.”

“It’s crystal clear that border presents problems, we have seen this increase in people crossing the border and making mischief in Afghanistan and then going back,” Scheffer said.

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates has asked Pakistan to join an investigation into the air raid.

Calling on the Pakistani government to rethink its relationship with the US, Haider Khan Hoti, chief minister of North West Frontier Province, said the strike was “absolutely naked aggression.”

“After condemnation, we should do some serious rethinking of the ties that we have because on the one side in the war on terror we are expected to offer them cooperation and on the other hand our security forces are being targeted,” Hoti told reporters in Peshawar.

The grainy, monochrome images released by the US-led coalition forces in Afghanistan show about a half-dozen men firing small arms and rocket-propelled grenades from a ridge at coalition troops off camera in the valley below. According to the voiceover, the ridge is in Afghanistan’s Kunar province, about 200m from the Pakistan border and close to the Gorparai checkpoint.

Neither the checkpoint nor any other structures are visible in the video excerpts, which were shot by a surveillance drone circling above the mountainous battle zone.

The voiceover says the coalition forces were on a reconnaissance mission and returned fire.

The video shows “anti-Afghan militants” moving to a position identified as inside Pakistan and the impact of a bomb that the voiceover says killed two of them. The survivors fled into a ravine, where three more bombs fell. The voiceover said all the militants were killed and US officials said 13 bombs were dropped in all.

Pakistan’s army says the fighting broke out after Afghan government soldiers, who had occupied a mountaintop position in a disputed border zone on Monday, acceded to a Pakistan request to withdraw.

Major General Athar Abbas said the Afghan forces were on their way back when they were attacked by insurgents and that the airstrike was ordered in response.

Abbas said on Thursday that the army was analyzing the coalition video and statements by US officials and had yet to formulate its response.

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