Firing by Pakistani troops forced U.S. military helicopters to turn back to Afghanistan after they crossed into Pakistani territory on Monday, Pakistani security officials said.
The incident took place near Angor Adda, a village in the tribal region of South Waziristan where U.S. commandos raided a suspected Al Qaeda and Taliban camp earlier this month.
“The U.S. choppers came into Pakistan by just 100 to 150 meters at Angor Adda,” said one security official. “Even then our troops did not spare them, opened fire on them, and they turned away.”
Pakistan is a crucial U.S. ally in its war on terrorism, and its support is key to the success of Western forces trying to stabilize Afghanistan. But Washington has become impatient over Islamabad’s response to the threat from fighters for al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan’s tribal regions on the border.
At least 20 people, including women and children, were killed in the South Waziristan raid earlier this month, causing outrage in Pakistan and prompting a diplomatic protest.
The Pakistani Army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, said last week in a strongly worded statement that Pakistan would not allow foreign troops onto its soil and that Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity would be defended at all costs.
Another security official said Monday that U.S. vehicles were seen moving on the Afghan side of the border while U.S. warplanes were seen overhead. He said Pakistani soldiers had fired in the air, forcing the helicopters to return to Afghan territory.
A military spokesman, Major Murad Khan, confirmed that there had been shooting. But he said that the U.S. helicopters had not crossed into Pakistani airspace and that Pakistani troops were not responsible for the firing.
“The U.S. choppers were there at the border, but they did not violate our airspace,” Khan said. “We confirm that there was a firing incident at the time when the helicopters were there, but our forces were not involved.”
Citing U.S. officials, The New York Times, whose global edition is the International Herald Tribune, reported last week that President George W. Bush has cleared U.S. raids across the border, even without Pakistan’s permission.
The raid on Angor Adda on Sept. 3 was the first overt ground incursion by U.S. troops into Pakistan since the U.S. forces were deployed in Afghanistan in late 2001. The United States has intensified attacks by missile-firing drone aircraft on suspected Qaeda and Taliban targets in Pakistani tribal lands in the past few weeks.
An official said Monday that security forces killed 32 people, including three women, in strikes against suspected militant hideouts in northwest Pakistan, The Associated Press reported from Islamabad. The death toll resulted from the latest round of a bloody military offensive that has reportedly killed hundreds in recent weeks in the Bajur tribal region bordering Afghanistan.