ISLAMABAD: American forces launched a raid inside Pakistan Wednesday, a senior U.S. military official said, in the first known foreign ground assault in Pakistan. The government of Pakistan condemned an incursion that it said killed at least 15 people. Talking to newsmen, the American official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of cross border operations, said that the raid occurred on Pakistani soil about one mile from the Afghan border. The official didn’t provide any other details.
Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry launched a protest, saying U.S.-led troops flew in from Afghanistan for the attack on a village. An army spokesman warned that the apparent escalation from recent missile strikes on militant targets along the Afghan border would further anger Pakistanis and undercut cooperation in the war against terrorist groups.
U.S. military and civilian officials declined to respond to Pakistan’s complaints. But one official, a South Asia expert who agreed to discuss the situation only if not quoted by name, suggested the target of any raid like that reported Wednesday would have to be extremely important to risk an almost assured “big backlash” from Pakistan. “You have to consider that something like this will be a more-or-less once-off opportunity for which we will have to pay a price in terms of Pakistani cooperation,” the official said.
Circumstances surrounding Wednesday’s raid weren’t clear, but U.S. rules of engagement allow American troops to chase militants across the border into Pakistan’s lawless tribal region when they are attacked. They may only go about six miles on the ground, under normal circumstances. U.S. rules allow aircraft to go 10 miles into Pakistan air space.
Pakistani officials said they were lodging strong protests with the U.S. government and its military representative in Islamabad about Wednesday’s raid in the South Waziristan area. The Foreign Ministry called the strike “a gross violation of Pakistan’s territory,” saying it could “undermine the very basis of cooperation and may fuel the fire of hatred and violence that we are trying to extinguish.”
Prior to the U.S. military confirming the U.S. raid, Pakistan government and military officials had insisted that either the NATO force or the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan — both commanded by American generals — were responsible. The army’s spokesman, Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, said the attack was the first incursion onto Pakistani soil by troops from the foreign forces that ousted Afghanistan’s hard-line Taliban regime after the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S.
He said the attack would undermine Pakistan’s efforts to isolate Islamic extremists and could threaten NATO’s major supply lines, which snake from Pakistan’s Indian Ocean port of Karachi through the tribal region into Afghanistan. “We cannot afford a huge uprising at the level of tribe,” Abbas said. “That would be completely counterproductive and doesn’t help the cause of fighting terrorism in the area.”
A spokesman for NATO troops in Afghanistan denied any involvement in the raid. The Pakistani anger threatens to upset efforts by American commanders to draw Pakistan’s military into the U.S. strategy of dealing harshly with the militants. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met last week with Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, the Pakistani army chief. Mullen said he came away encouraged that Pakistanis were becoming more focused on the problem of militants using the country as a safe haven.
However, Abbas, the army spokesman, said Wednesday those cross-border commando operations were not discussed and he reiterated Pakistan’s position that its forces should be exclusively responsible for operations on its territory. Pakistani officials say the U.S. and NATO should share intelligence and allow Pakistani troops to execute any raids needed inside Pakistan. However, Washington has accused rogue elements in Pakistan’s main intelligence service of leaking sensitive information to militants.
There were differing reports on how many people were killed. The provincial governor claimed 20 civilians, including women and children, died. Army and intelligence officials, as well as residents, said 15 people were killed. Habib Khan Wazir, an area resident, said he heard helicopters, then an exchange of gunfire. “Later, I saw 15 bodies inside and outside two homes. They had been shot in the head,” Wazir said by phone. He claimed all the dead were civilians.-SANA