Jonathan S. Landay / â€¨McClatchy Newspapers & BBC World News & Associated Press – 2010-10-06 23:09:08
US Apologizes to Pakistan for Troop Deaths in Airstrike
Jonathan S. Landay / â€¨McClatchy Newspapers
(October 6, 2010) — The US apologized Wednesday for the deaths of two Pakistani paramilitary troops and the wounding of four others in a cross-border airstrike by US helicopters that prompted Islamabad to close two vital supply routes used by the US-led force in Afghanistan.
The latest flare-up comes as the Obama administration steps up public and private pressure on Pakistan to crack down on the Afghan Taliban and allied groups. The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that a new White House report to Congress says bluntly that Pakistan’s civilian and military leaders have been unwilling to attack al-Qaida and other terrorist groups.
Officials in Washington said that intensified strikes inside Pakistan by manned and pilotless aircraft – and reportedly also by US-trained Afghan fighters – are an effort to pressure Pakistan to move against the Haqqani network, an insurgent group based in Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal area.
“The message is clear: If you won’t act, we will,” said one US official in Washington, who requested anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to talk to the news media about the issue.
Many US officials think that elements within the Pakistani military are backing Islamist insurgent groups as part of a strategy to install a pro-Pakistan government in Kabul.
Wednesday’s apology by the US ambassador to Pakistan, Anne Patterson, came after the US-led force in Afghanistan announced that a joint investigation into the Sept. 30 incident conducted with the Pakistani military found that the US helicopters mistook the paramilitary troops for insurgents.
“We extend our deepest apology to Pakistan and the families of the Frontier Scouts who were killed and injured,” Patterson said. “Pakistan’s brave security forces are our allies in a war that threatens both Pakistan and the US”
In Kabul, US Army Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of the US-led International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, also issued a statement, saying that the force “offers its deepest sympathy and condolences to the families of those killed and injured. We deeply regret this tragic loss of life.”
There was no immediate official announcement from Islamabad about whether the two statements would be enough to persuade Pakistani authorities to reopen the supply routes from the port city of Karachi into landlocked Afghanistan.
A senior Pakistani official, however, said that he thought the border crossings at Torkham in the north and Chaman in the south would be reopened to vehicles hauling ISAF supplies.
Fifty percent of ISAF’s supplies are carried on the routes. Twenty percent come down a road network from Central Asia, and the remainder is flown into Afghanistan, according to the US Central Command.
Suspected Islamic militants torched dozens of trucks carrying ISAF supplies and killed at least one driver as they waited in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan Province, for the Chaman border crossing to reopen, Pakistani authorities said. It was the seventh such attack on trucks carrying ISAF goods since the two border crossings were closed.
The senior Pakistani official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said that it’s in Pakistan’s interest to resolve the latest friction with the US
“These things have to be calibrated carefully,” he said. “We need to show how much they (the United States) depend on us, and then we can back away.”
Pakistan denies that it has such a goal, and points out that it’s lost hundreds of troops in offensives against the militants, even though most of its efforts have targeted domestic extremists, not those that are attacking ISAF and government forces in Afghanistan.
Pakistan’s deeply unpopular civilian government faces considerable public anger over cross-border attacks on suspected insurgent targets by US pilotless drone aircraft.
In a statement issued in Kabul, ISAF said that the investigation into the Sept. 30 incident found that the two US helicopters had crossed into Pakistani airspace several times as they targeted insurgents just inside Afghanistan.
“Subsequently, the helicopters fired on a building later identified as a Pakistan border outpost, in response to shots fired from the post. The assessment team considered it most probable that they (the Pakistani paramilitary troops) had fired in an attempt to warn the helicopters of their presence,” the ISAF statement said.
“We believe the Pakistani border guard was simply firing warning shots,” said US Air Force Brig. Gen. Tim Zadalis, the ISAF director of air plans, who led the investigation. “This tragic event could have been avoided with better coalition force coordination with the Pakistani military.”
McClatchy Newspapers special correspondent Saeed Shah contributed to this report from Islamabad.
Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/2010/10/06/v-print/1860977/us-apologizes-to-pakistan-for.html#ixzz11do0CHHM
NATO Supply Lorries Set Ablaze by Gunmen in Pakistan
BBC World News
ISLAMABAD (October 6, 2010) — Militants in Pakistan have destroyed at least 40 tankers carrying fuel for NATO in two separate attacks, police say. The first attack hit a depot near Quetta while the second set ablaze a convoy in Nowshera, in the northwest. Attacks on tankers have soared since Pakistan shut one of the main routes into Afghanistan over the deaths of several soldiers in a NATO raid.
The US and NATO have apologized for the helicopter attack last week which killed at least two Pakistani soldiers.
NATO admitted two of its helicopters entered Pakistan on 30 September and killed two border guards, mistaking them for militants after they fired shots. Pakistan says three soldiers were killed. The attack infuriated public opinion in Pakistan and led to anti-NATO demonstrations.
The US ambassador to Pakistan, Anne Patterson, described it as a “terrible accident” and said she was offering an apology on behalf of the American people.
“We extend our deepest apology to Pakistan and the families of the Frontier Scouts who were killed and injured,” she said. NATO’s Gen David Petraeus also apologised and vowed to work to stop similar incidents happening in the future.
The Pakistani authorities closed the Torkham crossing in the northwest after the incident. The move has has stalled hundreds of lorries carrying NATO supplies bound for Afghanistan, making them easy targets for militants.
In the Nowshera attack, gunmen raided a convoy parked along the road, setting ablaze some 20 fuel tankers. Police said they did not know if anyone had been killed. Hours earlier on Wednesday, hundreds of miles to the south, gunmen struck a depot near Quetta where dozens of fuel tankers were parked.
Police said up to 14 gunmen in two pick-up trucks opened fire on the tankers, killing one driver. BBC Urdu’s Ayub Tareen rushed to the scene after the ambush and was lucky to escape with scratches when one of the blazing fuel tankers exploded.
The Pakistani Taliban said they carried out both raids, the fourth and fifth such attacks in the past week.
‘Avoiding the Taliban’
NATO officials say the attacks have not had any significant impact on operations. A senior spokesman for NATO-led Isaf forces in Afghanistan, Gen Josef Blotz, told the BBC there were “plenty of supplies and stocks within Afghanistan already.”
The Chaman crossing in Balochistan remains open, but this is not as convenient for supplies bound for Kabul. Supplies can also be brought into northern Afghanistan via Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. The shutting of the border post has strained relations between Pakistan and the US.
Those ties could be further strained by a White House assessment that paints a critical picture of Pakistan’s willingness and ability to tackle Taliban and al-Qaeda militants operating in North Waziristan, near the border with Afghanistan.
The report said Pakistan’s military stayed close to the main roads, avoiding “military engagements that would put it in direct conflict with Afghan Taliban or al-Qaeda forces in North Waziristan”. This was “as much a political choice” as a question of military ability, the report said.
Trucks With Fuel for War
Set Ablaze in Pakistan<â€™big>
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (October 4, 2010) — Armed militants attacked and set fire to at least 20 parked tanker trucks carrying fuel for NATO and American troops in Afghanistan on Monday, the police said. It was the third such strike in Pakistan since Friday.
The attack, not far from the capital, Islamabad, took place on a supply line that has been stalled because of a temporary border closing imposed by the Pakistani authorities to protest a NATO helicopter attack that killed three Pakistani soldiers last week.
The border closing has exacerbated tensions between the United States and Pakistan but has been welcomed by Islamist groups opposed to Pakistanâ€™s support of the American-led war in Afghanistan. Umer Hayat, a police officer, said three people were killed in the latest burning of fuel trucks, for which he blamed terrorists.
The attackers opened fire on trucks parked at a poorly guarded terminal before setting them afire, he and other officers said.
The trucks were waiting to travel to the Torkham border crossing along the Khyber Pass, used to transport fuel, military vehicles, spare parts, clothing and other nonlethal supplies for foreign troops in Afghanistan. Pakistanâ€™s other main route into landlocked Afghanistan, in Chaman in the southwest, has remained open.
While NATO and the United States have alternative supply routes into Afghanistan, the Pakistani ones are the cheapest and most convenient. Most of the nonlethal supplies headed to the American-led war effort are transported over Pakistani soil from the port of Karachi in the south.
On Friday, a day after the closing of the Khyber Pass route to NATO and American traffic, there were two attacks on oil tankers headed to Afghanistan. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for at least one of them and vowed to attack again.
The convoys take several days to reach the border and make frequent stops. They receive little or no protection outside the frontier region and are indistinguishable from ordinary trucks and tankers that ply Pakistani roads.
Over the past two years, they have often been attacked by militants, mostly in the northwestern border region.
Earlier Sunday, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that he did “not expect this blockade to continue for too long.” Asked whether the route could be opened within the next week, he said, “I think it will happen in less than that duration.”
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