NATO helicopters attack on Pakistan border post kills 26 soldiers
PESHAWAR: NATO helicopters from Afghanistan carried out an “unprovoked and indiscriminate” attack on a military checkpoint in northwest Pakistan and immediately blocked NATO supplies to Afghanistan, after blaming the coalition helicopters, killing at least 26 soldiers and 14 personnel were injured, The Lahore Times reported said on Saturday.
According to an army spokesperson, NATO helicopters carried out unprovoked and indiscriminate firing on a Pakistani checkpoint in Mohmand Agency last night, casualties have been reported. However details are coming.
Local intelligence official: “The firing left seven soldiers and a major dead.”
A paramilitary and other security official confirmed the casualties.
Military officials said that two majors were among those who were killed in the attack on the Baizai area of the Mohmand region, and the death toll could rise.
The early morning air strike at the Afghan border was denounced as a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and was set to inflame even further the continually tense relations with America.
The attack is the worst incident of its kind since Pakistan allied with Washington restless in the days immediately following September 11, 2001 attacks on US targets.
Security officials in the Mohmand tribal region near the Afghan border and a military officer in Peshawar said that 26 soldiers, including two officers killed in the pre-dawn incident.
They said the NATO helicopters attack took place at the checkpoint in the district Salala Baizai rugged tribal area.
NATO confirmed it was aware of “an incident” near the border and said it was investigating.
All entry and exit points of Mohmand Agency were sealed by security forces after the incident.
“The firing left seven soldiers and one major dead,” a local intelligence official said.
Regarding the relations between the Pakistan and US, its ally in the war against militancy, are already very tense after the killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden by US Special Forces in a secret operation in the Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad in May.
Pakistan called that attack a flagrant violation of its sovereignty.
The Foreign Office equally condemned Saturday’s attack.
“Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani has condemned in the strongest terms the NATO helicopters attack on the Pakistani checkpost,” ministry spokeswoman Tehmina Janjua said in a statement. “On his direction, the matter is being taken (up) by the foreign ministry in the strongest terms with NATO and the US.”
Nato coalition’s commander in Afghanistan, General John R. Allen said that he had offered his condolences to the family and loved ones of any members of Pakistani soldiers, who “may have been killed or injured” during an “incident” on the border.
John Allen: “An investigation was underway and the incident had his ‘highest personal attention’.”
A spokesman for the force declined further comment on the nature of the “incident” and said an investigation was proceeding. It was not yet clear, he said, whether there had been deaths or injuries.
Two military officials said that up to 28 troops had been killed and 11 wounded in the attack on the Salala checkpoint, about 2.5 km (1.5 miles) from the Afghan border.
The attack took place around 2 a.m. (2100 GMT) in the Baizai area of Mohmand, where Pakistani troops are fighting Taliban militants.
A senior Pakistani military officer said efforts were under way to bring the bodies of the slain soldiers to Ghalanai, the headquarters of Mohmand tribal region.
“The latest attack by NATO forces on our post will have serious repercussions as they without any reasons attacked on our post and killed soldiers asleep,” he said, requesting anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
About 40 Pakistani army troops were stationed at the outpost, military sources said. Two officers were reported among the dead.
NATO supply trucks and fuel tankers bound for Afghanistan were stopped at Jamrud town in the Khyber tribal region near the city of Peshawar hours after the raid, officials said.
“We have halted the supplies and some 40 tankers and trucks have been returned from the check post in Jamrud,” Mutahir Zeb, a senior government official, told Reuters.
Another official said the supplies had been stopped for security reasons.
“There is possibility of attacks on NATO supplies passing through the volatile Khyber tribal region, therefore we sent them back toward Peshawar to remain safe,” he said.
The border crossing at Chaman in Baluchistan was also closed, Frontier Corps officials said.
Pakistan is a vital land route for 49 percent of NATO’s supplies to its troops in Afghanistan, a NATO spokesman said.
Reflecting the confusion of war in an ill-defined border area, an Afghan border police official, Edrees Momand, said joint Afghan-NATO troops near the outpost Saturday morning had detained several militants.
“I am not aware of the casualties on the other side of the border but those we have detained aren’t Afghan Taliban,” he said, implying they were Pakistani Taliban operating in Afghanistan.
The Afghanistan-Pakistan border is often poorly marked, and differs between maps by up to five miles in some places.
The incident occurred a day after U.S. General John Allen met Pakistani Army Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani to discuss border control and enhanced cooperation.
A similar incident on Sept 30, 2009, which killed two Pakistani troops, led to the closure of one of NATO’s supply routes through Pakistan for 10 days.
NATO apologized for that incident, which it said happened when NATO gunships mistook warning shots by the Pakistani forces for a militant attack.
The attack is expected to further worsen U.S.-Pakistan relations, already at one of their lowest points in history, following a tumultuous year that saw the bin Laden raid, the jailing of a CIA contractor, and U.S. accusations that Pakistan backed a militant attack on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.
The United States has long suspected Pakistan of continuing to secretly support Taliban militant groups in a bid to secure influence in Afghanistan after most NATO troops leave in 2014. Saturday’s incident will give Pakistan the argument that NATO is now attacking it directly.
“I think we should go to the United Nations Security Council against this,” said retired Brigadier Mahmood Shah, former chief of security in the tribal areas. “So far, Pakistan is being blamed for all that is happening in Afghanistan, and Pakistan’s point of view has not been shown in the international media.”
He called the attack unprovoked and said Pakistan should respond by shooting down NATO aircraft and keeping the supply lines closed.
“Those who say that Pakistan cannot afford a war with the U.S. and NATO, I think we should realize that U.S. and NATO also cannot afford a war with Pakistan.”
Other analysts, including Rustam Shah Mohmand, a former ambassador to Afghanistan, said Pakistan would protest and close the supply lines for some time, but that ultimately “things will get back to normal.”