Wed, May 18, 2011 - Page 5 News List

NATO chopper wounds two: officials

INTRUSION:A local intelligence official said the helicopter hit a Pakistani checkpost near the border with Afghanistan. NATO said it was still investigating the incident

Reuters, MIRANSHAH, PAKISTAN

A NATO helicopter from Afghanistan intruded into Pakistan’s North Waziristan region yesterday, wounding two troops, local intelligence officials said, adding to tensions between Islamabad and the West.

“It happened early morning,” said a Pakistani intelligence official in the region, who declined to be identified. “The helicopter hit a Pakistani checkpost on the border in the Datta Khel area.”

Another intelligence official said several Pakistani helicopters took off from Miranshah, the main town in North Waziristan, toward the site of the attack. The purpose of the Pakistani mobilization was unclear.

The Pakistani military was immediately unavailable for comment.

Lieutenant Commander Colette Murphy, a spokeswoman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, said in Kabul that the coalition was aware of the reports and looking into them, but had no immediate comment.

North Waziristan is the base of the Haqqani network blamed for the insurgency in eastern Afghanistan. US-led drone aircraft have repeatedly targeted the area over the past year.

Many militants, including foreign fighters loyal to al-Qaeda, are based in Datta Khel. It is a stronghold of fighters loyal to Hafiz Gul Bahadur and has been a frequent target of US drone strikes.

Pakistan’s Express 24/7 television channel said the checkpost targeted in the latest attack was located right on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

It quoted officials as saying that the helicopters were just about to intrude into Pakistani territory when aerial gunshots were fired. They subsequently moved back, but fired a retaliatory shot due to which rubble fell from the nearby mountains and wounded the security personnel.

The reported incursion came a day after unmanned US drone aircraft fired missiles in Datta Khel killing 12 militants, Pakistani officials said.

An intelligence official said that one of the dead militants, an Arab, was the son of an al-Qaeda operative identified as Abu Kashif. There was no way to verify the death toll. Militants often dispute official accounts of drone attack.

Relations between the US and Pakistan have been pushed almost to the breaking point after the secret May 2 raid on Abbottabad that killed Osama bin Laden, embarrassing and humiliating the powerful Pakistan Army and intelligence service.

Before that, in late January, undercover CIA contractor Raymond Davis killed two Pakistanis in Lahore, resulting in a six-week standoff over diplomatic immunity.

A previous incursion on Sept. 30 last year killed two Pakistani troops and wounded four more when NATO helicopters crossed the border while pursing insurgents. Pakistan retaliated by shutting down the supply route for NATO troops in Afghanistan.

Washington sees the rugged border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan as a critical battleground against al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

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