Pak­istan rails against West over airstrikes

An of­fi­cial says the coun­try will con­sider ‘re­sponse op­tions’ if it hap­pens again.

Los Angeles Times - - The World - Alex Ro­driguez re­port­ing from IS­LAM­ABAD, PAK­ISTAN­driguez Times staff writer Laura King in Kabul, Afghanistan, con­trib­uted to this re­port.

Pak­istan on Mon­day strongly de­nounced airstrikes from Afghanistan-based NATO he­li­copters that killed more than 50 in­sur­gents in Pak­istan over the week­end, warn­ing it would have to con­sider “re­sponse op­tions” if it hap­pened again.

Though the U.S. rou­tinely car­ries out un­manned drone strikes against Al Qaeda, Afghan Tal­iban and Pak­istani Tal­iban mil­i­tants in Pak­istan’s largely un­governed tribal ar­eas along the Afghan border, airstrikes from U.S. or NATO manned air­craft on tar­gets in Pak­istan have been rare.

U.S. mil­i­tary of­fi­cials say their rules of en­gage­ment al­low NATO air­craft to act in self-de­fense against in­sur­gents who have launched attacks against NATO or Afghan forces from Pak­istani ter­ri­tory. The U.S. has said in the past that Pak­istan has agreed to those rules, though Pak­istani of­fi­cials on Mon­day de­nied that such an agree­ment ex­ists.

NATO car­ried out the airstrikes Satur­day af­ter mil­i­tants at­tacked a re­mote Afghan se­cu­rity out­post near the border in Khowst prov­ince, NATO of­fi­cials said. The small in­stal­la­tion, known as Com­bat Out­post Narizah, re­ceived “di­rect and in­di­rect fire from the Pak­istan side of the border,” a NATO state­ment said.

Though NATO of­fi­cials did not say which mil­i­tant group car­ried out the at­tack, it was launched from Pak­istan’s North Waziris­tan re­gion, the base of op­er­a­tions for the Afghan Tal­iban wing known as the Haqqani net­work.

Two NATO he­li­copters flew into Pak­istani ter­ri­tory and killed 49 in­sur­gents, said U.S. Capt. Ryan Don­ald, a spokesman for the NATO-led In­ter­na­tional Se­cu­rity As­sis­tance Force, or ISAF, in Afghanistan. “The he­li­copters re­sponded to the at­tack, act­ing in self-de­fense,” Don­ald said. “They briefly flew into Pak­istan, briefly en­gaged the in­sur­gents and re­turned.”

Later Satur­day, two other NATO he­li­copters fly­ing in the area were fired upon by in­sur­gents on Pak­istani soil, and re­turned fire, killing at least four more mil­i­tants, Don­ald said. Af­ter the attacks, NATO of­fi­cials in­formed Pak­istani au­thor­i­ties about what had hap­pened, Don­ald said.

The North At­lantic Treaty Or­ga­ni­za­tion’s state­ment stressed that only air­power was used. “At no time dur­ing the en­gage­ment did ground forces cross into Pak­istan ter­ri­tory,” the state­ment said.

On Mon­day, six more mil­i­tants were killed in an ISAF heli­copter at­tack in the Kur­ram re­gion along the border, Reuters re­ported. An ISAF spokesman said it was “near the border,” rather than in Pak­istan.

Pak­istan re­acted an­grily to news of Satur­day’s airstrikes. In a state­ment is­sued by the Pak­istani For­eign Min­istry, spokesman Ab­dul Ba­sit called the strikes a vi­o­la­tion of Pak­istan’s sovereignty.

“These in­ci­dents are a clear vi­o­la­tion and breach of the U.N. man­date un­der which ISAF op­er­ates,” Ba­sit said in the state­ment. “There are no agreed ‘ hot pur­suit’ rules…. In the ab­sence of im­me­di­ate cor­rec­tive mea­sures, Pak­istan will be con­strained to con­sider re­sponse op­tions.”

Though Pak­istan has tac­itly al­lowed the U.S. to launch un­manned drone mis­sile strikes against Tal­iban and Haqqani mil­i­tants in the coun­try’s tribal ar­eas, it has firmly said it would not al­low for­eign forces to carry out com­bat op­er­a­tions on its ter­ri­tory.

In June 2008, Pak­istani au­thor­i­ties ac­cused the U.S. of dis­patch­ing war­planes into Pak­istani ter­ri­tory and launch­ing an airstrike that killed 11 mem­bers of the Fron­tier Corps, a Pak­istani para­mil­i­tary force that pa­trols the tribal ar­eas. The U.S. expressed re­gret over the in­ci­dent but coun­tered that it had been act­ing in self-de­fense af­ter its troops came un­der at­tack from Tal­iban fight­ers.

The new airstrikes could fur­ther strain Washington’s frag­ile al­liance with the Pak­istani mil­i­tary, which has re­peat­edly balked at launch­ing an of­fen­sive against Haqqani net­work fight­ers who use North Waziris­tan as a base from which to launch attacks on U.S. and Afghan forces in Afghanistan. This sum­mer’s cat­a­strophic floods have forced Pak­istan to di­vert thou­sands of troops to help flood vic­tims cope with the dis­as­ter, mak­ing mil­i­tary ac­tion in North Waziris­tan un­likely any time soon.

As a re­sult, the U.S. had ratch­eted up its drone strike cam­paign against mil­i­tants in the tribal ar­eas, fo­cus­ing most of the attacks on sus­pected Haqqani strongholds and com­pounds in North Waziris­tan.

So far this month, the U.S. has car­ried out 20 drone strikes in Pak­istan’s tribal re­gions, killing dozens of sus­pected mil­i­tants. The lat­est at­tack oc­curred Mon­day, when a drone-fired mis­sile killed four peo­ple near the North Waziris­tan town of Mir Ali.

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