Bruce Loudon / The Australian & Paul Alexander / Associated Press & Hafiz Wazir / Reuters – 2008-09-05 10:19:04
Pakistan Slams US for Strike as Shots Miss PM
Bruce Loudon / The Australian
ISLAMABAD (September 5, 2008) — Washington’s ambassador to Islamabad was last night given a “shellacking” by Pakistan after the first-ever ground attack by US special forces inside the troubled nation.
Coming ahead of tomorrow’s crucial presidential election and amid a massive security clampdown following the attempted assassination of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, the Pakistan Government’s confrontation with the Bush administration was unprecedented.
Mr Gilani was unhurt as three militants, linked to al-Qa’ida and the Taliban, peppered his motorcade with high-velocity gunfire in broad daylight on the busy road linking the airport with the capital. Some reports claimed he was not in the car that was hit. But the attempt to kill him has left a pall of gloom and apprehension over an already deeply troubled Government.
The sense of despair is deepened by the near certainty that controversial candidate Asif Ali Zardari will become the all-powerful president tomorrow.
The confrontation with Washington and the attack on Mr Gilani coincided with heavy fighting against militants — despite a proclaimed ceasefire to mark Ramadan — in the strategic Swat valley, north of Islamabad. Jihadis warned they would step up their assault which has resulted in heavy casualties on both sides.
Almost 50 police cadets in the North West Frontier Province bordering Afghanistan were abducted by militants and led away to an uncertain fate.
There are fears the militants will be in no mood to negotiate following the unprecedented US ground incursion, and may execute the hostages.
“Finally, they’ve crossed the threshold, they’ve sent in ground forces to attack a target inside Pakistan,” a leading military analyst said. “It is a watershed moment, one that we have all feared and hoped would never happen because the reality is that the militants have vowed to go all out to avenge such attacks.”
At least 20 people were killed in the targeted, helicopter-borne assault by what are believed to have been US special forces on the village of Jalal Khel in South Waziristan, a hotbed of al-Qa’ida and Taliban-linked militancy.
Last night, US ambassador Anne Patterson was summoned to the Foreign Ministry in Islamabad and, in the words of one senior official, “given a real shellacking”. “She was read the riot act and left in no doubt that we are outraged and deeply offended by this gross violation on our sovereignty.”
An official statement described the attack as “a grave provocation” and said that “such actions are counter-productive and certainly do not help our joint efforts to fight terrorism”.
Villagers say the US special forces arrived in three helicopters while other gunships and Predator drones patrolled overhead. They are claimed to have fired indiscriminately at three houses, killing at least 20 people, most of them women and children.
“The Americans came in helicopters, landed, walked up to the houses, started shooting and throwing grenades, then left and flew back towards Afghanistan,” one villager told a reporter.
Another denied there were any militants in the village, and said he had seen the bodies of the dead piled up outside two houses, all apparently shot in the head.
The attack was confirmed by officials from the NATO command in Afghanistan. South Waziristan, the lair of leading Pakistani militant Baitullah Mehsud, has frequently been suggested as a possible base for Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Military spokesman Major-General Athar Abbas warned that the attack would undermine efforts to isolate Islamic extremists and could threaten NATO’s supply lines, which snake from Pakistan’s port city of Karachi through the militant-infested tribal areas to Afghanistan.
“We cannot afford a huge uprising at the tribe level. That would be completely counter-productive and doesn’t help the cause of fighting terrorism.”
Meanwhile, supporters of Mr Zardari claimed last night that he could win by a huge, two-thirds majority when the electoral college meets in Islamabad tomorrow to select a new president to succeed Mr Musharraf.
Senior minister Ahmad Mukhter said he believed Mr Zardari was poised to get at least 500 of the 700 votes tomorrow.
US Confirms Raid inside Pakistan
Paul Alexander / The Associated Press
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (September 3, 2008) — American forces launched a raid inside Pakistan on Wednesday, a senior US military official said, in the first known foreign ground assault in Pakistan against a suspected Taliban haven. The government condemned an incursion that it said killed at least 15 people.
The American official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of cross border operations, told The Associated Press that the raid occurred on Pakistani soil about 1.6 kilometres from the Afghan border. The official didn’t provide any other details.
Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry launched a protest, saying US-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.
The boldness of the thrust fed speculation about the intended target. But it was unclear whether any extremist leader was killed or captured in the operation, which occurred in one of the militant strongholds dotting a frontier region considered a likely hiding place for Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida’s No. 2 leader, Ayman al-Zawahri.
US 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.
Suspected US missile attacks killed at least two al-Qaida commanders this year in the same region, drawing protests from Pakistan’s government that its sovereignty was under attack. US officials did not acknowledge any involvement in those attacks.
But American commanders have been complaining publicly that Pakistan puts too little pressure on militant groups that are blamed for mounting violence in Afghanistan, stirring speculation that US forces might lash out across the frontier.
Circumstances surrounding Wednesday’s raid weren’t clear, but US 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 9.6 kilometres on the ground, under normal circumstances. US rules allow aircraft to go 16 kilometres into Pakistan air space.
In other signs of Pakistan’s precarious stability three days before legislators elect a successor to Pervez Musharraf as president, snipers shot at the prime minister’s limousine near Islamabad and government troops killed two dozen militants in another area of the restive northwest.
Pakistani officials said they were lodging strong protests with the US government and its military representative in Islamabad about Wednesday’s raid in the South Waziristan area, a notorious hot bed of militant activity.
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 US military confirming the US raid, Pakistan government and military officials had insisted that either the NATO force or the US-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 US
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 US 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 that 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 US 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.
American officials say destroying militant sanctuaries in Pakistani tribal regions is key to defeating Taliban-led militants in Afghanistan whose insurgency has strengthened every year since the fundamentalist militia was ousted for harboring bin Laden. But there has been debate in Washington over how far the US can go on its own.
Citing witness and intelligence reports, Abbas said troops flew in on at least one big CH-47 Chinook transport helicopter, blasted their way into several houses and gunned down men they found there.
He said there was no evidence that any of those killed were insurgents or that the raiders abducted any militant leader, but he acknowledged Pakistan’s military had no firsthand account.
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.
Near Islamabad, meanwhile, snipers fired at a motorcade near the capital as it headed to the airport to pick up the prime minister, hitting the window of his car at least twice, officials said. Neither Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani nor his staff were in the vehicles.
Muslim Khan, a spokesman for the banned militant organization Tahrik-e-Taliban, claimed responsibility and pledged more attacks in retaliation for army operations in tribal areas and the Swat Valley along the border with Afghanistan.
In Washington, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice declined to comment on the claimed cross-border raid, but she said the US would continue to work with Gilani’s government.
“I am relieved, of course, that the incident aimed at the Pakistani prime minister did not succeed,” Rice said.
“We’re going to be in continued contact with the Pakistanis as we both try to help them to build a strong economic foundation, to build a strong democratic foundation and to fight the terrorists who are a threat not just to the United States and to Afghanistan but to Pakistan as well.”
Associated Press writers Pamela Hess, Pauline Jelinek and Matthew Lee in Washington, Ishtiaq Mahsud in Dera Ismail Khan, Munir Ahmad and Stephen Graham in Islamabad and Fisnik Abrashi in Kabul contributed to this report.
© The Canadian Press, 2008
Suspected US Troops Kill 20 in Pakistan Attack
Hafiz Wazir / Reuters
WANA, Pakistan (September 3, 2008) — Suspected US commandos from Afghanistan killed 20 people, including women and children, in a pre-dawn raid inside Pakistan, officials said, an attack branded as an assault on the nation’s sovereignty.
The attack is likely to spark uproar in Pakistan, where it will be seen as undermining sovereignty at a time when a new civilian government is struggling to assert authority in the turbulent nuclear-armed state.
“It is outrageous,” Owais Ahmed Ghani, governor of North West Frontier province, said in a statement. “This is a direct assault on the sovereignty of Pakistan and the people of Pakistan expect that the armed forces … would rise to defend the sovereignty of the country and give a befitting reply,” he said.
Security officials in the region said they suspected U.S. soldiers backed by helicopter gunships mounted the attack.
A spokeswoman for Afghanistan’s NATO-led force said she had no information about the incident.
A spokesman for a separate U.S.-led coalition force declined to comment, referring questions to the U.S. Central Command.
The United States says al Qaeda and Taliban militants are based in sanctuaries in northwest Pakistan’s ethnic Pashtun tribal areas on the Afghan border, where they orchestrate attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan and plot violence in the West.
Since the emergence of a civilian-led government following elections in Pakistan in February, there has been mounting concern that U.S. military operations were becoming more aggressive in the tribal lands bordering Afghanistan.
The number of missile attacks launched by pilotless drone aircraft have multiplied, and there have been fears U.S. forces would use helicopter gunships or put troops on the ground for “hot pursuit” or commando-style raids to destroy al Qaeda nests.
The attack took place in a village in the South Waziristan region, a known sanctuary for al Qaeda and Taliban militants.
The village is across the border from Bermal, a village near a U.S. base at Shikin in Afghanistan’s Paktika province.
“Troops came in helicopters and carried out action in three houses,” said Angor Adda village shopkeeper Gul Nawaz.
Other residents said the foreign troops detained some people and took them away.
U.S.-operated drone aircraft have launched attacks in Pakistani border regions several times this year, killing dozens of militants, but U.S. ground troops had not been known to cross into Pakistan to fight militants.
Pakistan is a staunch U.S. ally, even though the campaign against militancy is deeply unpopular with many people, but it rules out any encroachment by foreign soldiers onto its soil.
Pakistani Defence Minister Ahmed Mukhtar said aircraft belonging to foreign forces in Afghanistan attacked three houses at 4.30 a.m. (2230 GMT).
He declined to comment further, saying the Foreign Ministry was investigating.
(Additional reporting by Alamgir Bitani; Writing by Augustine Anthony; Editing by Robert Birsel and Paul Tait)
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