Islamabad: Pakistan warned US troops not to intrude on its territory Friday, 26 September, after the two anti-terror allies traded fire along the Afghan border, straining already tense ties.
Thursday’s five-minute clash came at a time the US is stepping up cross-border operations in the frontier region, known as a haven for Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants.
The clash—the first serious exchange with Pakistani forces acknowledged by the US—follows a string of other alleged border incidents and incursions that have angered many Pakistanis.
Speaking in New York, Pakistan’s president tried to play down the incident, saying only that “flares” were fired at foreign helicopters that he said strayed into his country from Afghanistan.
US and Nato military officials said the ground troops and helicopters were in Afghan territory.
Pakistani government spokesman Akram Shaheedi urged US-led coalition forces “not to violate territorial sovereignty of Pakistan as it is counterproductive to the war on terror.”
Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan’s president, tried to play down the incident, saying only “flares” were fired at foreign helicopters that he said strayed into his country from Afghanistan. US and Nato military officials said the ground troops and helicopters were in Afghan territory. Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg
“It has been Pakistan’s policy that we will not allow anyone to violate our sovereignty, and we will continue to defend our territorial sovereignty,” he said Friday.
The clash occurred as new Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari was in New York meeting with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai was scheduled to meet with U.S. President George W. Bush on Friday.
Two American OH-58 reconnaissance helicopters, known as Kiowas, were on a routine patrol in the eastern province of Khost when they received small arms fire from the Pakistani border post, said Tech Sgt Kevin Wallace, a US military spokesman in Bagram, Afghanistan. There was no damage to aircraft or crew, officials said.
US Central Command spokesman Rear Adm. Greg Smith said the helicopters had been escorting US troops and Afghan border police. When the helicopters were fired on, the ground forces fired rounds meant not to hit the Pakistani troops, but “to make certain that they realized they should stop shooting,” Smith said from Centcom headquarters in Florida.
The Pakistani forces fired back during a skirmish that lasted five minutes. The joint patrol was moving about a mile (1.6km) inside Afghanistan, with the helicopters above, Smith said.
The Pakistani military disputed the US version, saying its troops fired warning shots when the two helicopters crossed over the border—and that the US helicopters fired back.
“When the helicopters passed over our border post and were well within Pakistani territory, own security forces fires anticipatory warning shots. On this, the helicopters returned fire and flew back,” a Pakistani military statement said.
In New York, Zardari said his military fired only “flares” at foreign helicopters that he claimed had strayed across the border from Afghanistan.
Zardari said before his meeting with Rice that his forces fired only as a way “to make sure that they know that they crossed the border line.”
Later, in a speech at the UN General Assembly, Zardari vowed to continue the fight against terrorists but warned against allied incursions into Pakistan. “Unilateral actions of great powers should not inflame the passions of allies,” he said.
The Pakistani military said the matter was “being resolved” in consultations between the army and the Nato force in Afghanistan. A Nato statement said the militaries were “working together to resolve the matter.”
The shooting comes amid a string of cross-border incidents, including a highly unusual raid by American commandos into Pakistan’s tribal areas on Sept. 3 that left at least 15 people reportedly dead, and the apparent crash landing because of possible mechanical failure of a US spy drone this week in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, a Pakistani army spokesman, said last week Pakistani field commanders have previously tolerated international forces crossing a short way into the country because of the ill-defined and contested nature of the mountainous frontier.
“But after the (3 September) incident, the orders are clear,” Abbas said. “In case it happens again in this form, that there is a very significant detection, which is very definite, no ambiguity, across the border, on ground or in the air: open fire.”
Talat Masood, a military and political analyst, warned the cross-border raids were undermining support for American in Pakistani and risked destabilizing the country, where the new government was still asserting its authority.
“These incursions strengthen the hands of the militants,” Masood said. “You don’t want to strengthen them, you want to weaken them.”