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THE Pakistani government has responded to NATO air strikes that killed at least 25 soldiers by ordering the CIA to vacate the drone operations it runs from Shamsi Air Base in northern Pakistan and closing the two main NATO supply routes into Afghanistan.
Pakistani officials said that NATO aircraft hit two military posts at the northwestern border with Afghanistan. The country’s supreme army commander called the attacks unprovoked acts of aggression.
The CIA was given just 15 days to stop its drone operations. Among the two NATO supply routes into Afghanistan shut by the government was the one at Torkham. NATO forces receive about 40 per cent of their supplies through that crossing, which runs through the Khyber Pass. Pakistani officials gave no estimate as to how long the routes would be shut down.Advertisement: Story continues below
Cargo trucks, including those carrying supplies to NATO forces, are halted at the Pakistan-Torkham border as Pakistanis protest against the air strikes that killed 25 soldiers. Photo: Reuters
In Washington, US officials were scrambling to assess what had happened amid preliminary reports that allied forces in Afghanistan engaged in a firefight along the border with insurgents and called in airstrikes. Senior Obama administration officials were also weighing the implications on a relationship that took a sharp turn for the worse after a Navy SEAL commando raid killed Osama bin Laden near Islamabad in May, and that has deteriorated since then.
“Senior US civilian and military officials have been in touch with their Pakistani counterparts from Islamabad, Kabul and Washington to express our condolences, our desire to work together to determine what took place and our commitment to the US-Pakistan partnership,” said Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council.
General John R Allen, the commander of the NATO-led forces in Afghanistan, offered condolences and promised an investigation. “This incident has my highest personal attention and my commitment to thoroughly investigate it to determine the facts,” he said in a statement.
The strikes, which Pakistani officials said had involved both helicopters and fighter jets, took place at two military posts in Salala, a village in Pakistan’s Mohmand tribal region near the border with Kunar province in Afghanistan. At least 40 soldiers were deployed at the posts, which according to Pakistani officials were established to repulse attacks by Afghan militants and the Taliban. Pakistani military officials said NATO aircraft had penetrated roughly 2.4 kilometres into Pakistan to make the strikes.
What remained unclear was what prompted the airstrikes and whether they were unprovoked or resulted from a communications mishap. A NATO spokesman, Brigadier General Carsten Jacobson, offered details suggesting that allied and Afghan troops operating near the border came under fire from unknown enemies and summoned coalition warplanes for help.
“In the early night hours of this morning (Saturday, local time), a force consisting of Afghan forces and coalition forces, in the eastern border area where the Durand Line [the colonial boundary between Pakistan and Afghanistan] is not always 100-per cent clear, got involved in a firefight,” Jacobson said, according to a transcript of his statements on NATO TV.
“Air force was called in into this activity and we have to look into this situation of what actually happened on the ground.”
But several US and allied military, diplomatic and intelligence officials said it was unclear what threat, real or perceived, led to the airstrikes or why the allied aircraft fired on the Pakistani troops. “It’s real murky right now,” one senior US official said. “Clearly, something went very wrong.”
Such cross-border attacks have been at the heart of an increasingly hostile relationship between Pakistani and US officials. The US has demanded that Pakistan do more to stop militants based in its territory, particularly from the feared Haqqani faction and al-Qaida, from crossing into Afghanistan to attack US forces. And US forces in eastern Afghanistan say they have taken more mortar and rocket fire from positions at or near active Pakistani military posts in recent months.
Pakistani officials have been enraged by the raid on bin Laden’s compound and by repeated US drone strikes against militants in the northwestern tribal regions, which they consider breaches of the country’s sovereignty.
The Pakistani military said its top commander, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, praised troops at the border checkpoints for responding “in self-defense to NATO/ISAF’s aggression with all available weapons”, though there was no confirmation by NATO or US officials of return fire.
NEW YORK TIMES