By Candace Rondeaux
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
KARACHI, Pakistan, Sept. 15 -- Pakistani troops turned back a U.S. attack in Pakistan's tribal areas on Monday by firing warning shots toward U.S. troops as they attempted to cross from Afghanistan in pursuit of Taliban insurgents, a Pakistani intelligence official said. U.S. and Pakistani military spokesmen denied the report.
A Pakistani intelligence official said several U.S. helicopters were seen hovering near the Pakistani village of Angor Adda in the tribal area of South Waziristan. By the official's account, the helicopters landed just inside Afghanistan and several U.S. soldiers got out of them.
Pakistani troops fired warning shots in the air as the U.S. troops tried to enter Pakistani territory from Afghanistan, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak publicly on military operations. The brief standoff ended about 4:30 a.m., the intelligence official said.
Local villagers gave similar accounts, the Reuters news agency reported.
But Maj. Murad Khan, a spokesman for the Pakistani military, denied reports of gunfire. "There was no firing in the area, and there was no violation of Pakistani airspace," Khan said. "We have heard there were U.S. helicopters hovering at our border area, but they were deep inside Afghanistan."
Sgt. Chris Peavy, a spokesman for the U.S. military in Afghanistan, said: "We fly everyday missions in that area, all the time. It's close to the border, but we did not enter that area today. There's been no firing on our forces."
Tensions over cross-border incursions by U.S. and Afghan forces into Pakistan's tribal areas have been rising for months, as U.S. and NATO troops have suffered several major setbacks in Afghanistan.
Those tensions came to a boil early this month when U.S. commandos landed helicopter gunships in another South Waziristan village on Sept. 3. Pakistani officials said at least 20 people were killed after U.S. troops opened fire on a compound in the village of Musa Nika.
The incident prompted outrage from Pakistan's government and sparked an ongoing debate in the country over Pakistan's increasingly tenuous alliance with the United States in the fight against Islamist insurgents in the region. The debate was fueled by strikes in the tribal area by U.S. Predator drone aircraft.
U.S. officials have pressured Pakistan to step up its efforts to cut off attacks on coalition troops from Pakistan's tribal areas. Frustrated by a lack of progress on containing the threat from Taliban and al-Qaeda commanders, President Bush signed an order in July authorizing U.S. troops to conduct ground operations inside Pakistan.
Last week, Pakistan's army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani, condemned the attacks, saying Pakistan is prepared to defend its territory "at all cost." Kiyani's statement followed comments by Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that increased U.S. incursions in Pakistan are likely.
Pakistan's newly elected president, Asif Ali Zardari, is expected to discuss the issue of cross-border strikes with Bush during a visit to the United Nations in New York next week.
Special correspondent Shaiq Hussain in Islamabad, Pakistan, contributed to this report.