U.S. Troops Crossed Border, Pakistan Says
By Gene Thorp - The Washington Post
Thursday, September 4, 2008
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Sept. 3 -- Helicopters carried U.S. and Afghan commandos many miles into Pakistan on Wednesday to stage the first U.S. ground attack against a Taliban target inside the country, Pakistani officials said. At least 20 local people died in the raid, according to the officials.
Pakistan filed a formal protest with the U.S. government, which had no comment on what appeared to be a new escalation of U.S. pressure on Taliban and al-Qaeda sanctuaries in Pakistan's mountainous border regions.
As the Taliban insurgency escalates in Afghanistan, U.S. officials have increasingly turned their attention to those havens. Pakistan has committed to securing the borders, but has been beset with rising violence, both in the frontier region and in its cities.
In another example of eroding security, the limousine of Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani was ambushed Wednesday in the capital, Islamabad. Two bullets struck the side window of his black Mercedes-Benz as it sped toward an airport. Gillani was not in the vehicle at the time.
U.S. forces based in Afghanistan have periodically conducted air and artillery strikes against insurgents across the border in Pakistani territory, and new hot-pursuit rules provide some room for American troops to maneuver during battle. But the arrival of U.S. helicopters in the village of Musa Nika, deep in undisputed Pakistani territory, would constitute a new tactic.
Mohammed Sadiq, a spokesman for Pakistan's Foreign Ministry, condemned a "gross violation of Pakistan's territory" and "a grave provocation." In a written statement, he said his office lodged a formal complaint with the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad.
"Such actions are counterproductive and certainly do not help our joint efforts to fight terrorism," Sadiq said. "On the contrary, they undermine the very basis of cooperation and may fuel the fire of hatred and violence that we are trying to extinguish."
U.S. military officials in Afghanistan, at the Central Command in Tampa and at the Pentagon maintained a wall of silence, saying they had no comment on the Pakistani reports. Lou Fintor, a U.S. Embassy spokesman in Islamabad, also declined to comment.
Pakistani sources gave varying accounts, including on the number of troops and helicopters involved, and on whether U.S. troops were among those who left the helicopters and conducted a ground operation in the village. There were also differing versions of how far inside Pakistan the helicopters flew, because the border's location is disputed. By one count, the target village lay about 20 miles from the border.
According to Pakistani military sources, the raid began about 3 a.m. Wednesday when two or possibly three U.S. Army helicopters carrying American and Afghan troops landed in Musa Nika village in the Pakistani tribal area of South Waziristan.
The raid was apparently in response to a rocket that fighters fired at a convoy inside Afghanistan, according to one senior Pakistani official. "By the time they got there," the official said, "the guy with the rocket had moved."
According to another Pakistani official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to give out information, several of the troops left the helicopters and launched an assault on three houses.