Pakistan blocks NATO's Afghan-bound supply trucks after airstrike kills 3
Thursday, September 30, 2010; 12:49 PM
ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN - Pakistani officials said Thursday that NATO supply trucks had been blocked from entering Afghanistan at a key border post in response to an early morning NATO airstrike that they said killed three Pakistani border security soldiers.
According to a Pakistani military statement, the attack occurred at 5:25 a.m. at the Mandata Kandaho border post about 600 feet inside Upper Khurram agency, a region in Pakistan's tribal belt that borders Afghanistan's Khost province. After the helicopters "engaged through cannon fire" with the post, the six soldiers stationed there fired warning shots with their rifles, and the helicopters responded with two missiles that destroyed the post, according to the Pakistani account.
Within hours, the border crossing at Torkham had been ordered closed by federal officials, and NATO supply trucks were idling there, according to transporters stuck at the pass and officials in the region, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The pass, which lies north of Peshawar, is the most important entry point for coalition forces' fuel and supplies, most of which come into Pakistan through the southern port of Karachi.
"We will have to see whether we are allies or enemies," Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik said of the border incident, without mentioning the blockade.
President Asif Ali Zardari's office said that Zardari told CIA director Leon Panetta, who was in Islamabad on Thursday, that "the government of Pakistan strongly disapproves any incident of violation of its sovereignty. Any violation of internationally agreed principles is counter productive and unacceptable."
A NATO spokesman in Afghanistan said a crew of attack helicopters "did enter Pakistani air space briefly" Thursday morning after ground troops in Paktia province determined a cross-border mortar attack was imminent.
"Operating in self-defense, the [coalition] aircraft entered into Pakistani airspace, killing several armed individuals," said Lt. Col. John Dorrian, the spokesman. Dorrian said officials in Afghanistan and Pakistan were investigating whether that airstrike was linked to the airstrike that Pakistan said killed its soldiers.
The developments could gravely aggravate relations between the United States and Pakistan, whose rugged mountains are used by Afghan militants as safe havens. Although Pakistan is an ally in the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, it does not allow international combat troops or operations on its soil.
Pakistani military and government officials did not confirm the border blockade, but they protested the airstrike, which was at least the third in a week. Pakistan protested previous strikes and incursions into its airspace over the weekend and threatened to cut off supply routes. On Wednesday, Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters he had "clarified" the weekend's events in a telephone conversation with Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani, the chief of staff of the Pakistani army, and that they had arrived at a "decent understanding" of what had happened.
One Pakistani security official said there was a second airstrike in Khurram four hours after the early morning strike that resulted in no casualties. That report could not be confirmed.
Pakistani officials said Thursday that they had again lodged complaints with U.S. officials.
"We will protect our sovereignty in all circumstances," Abdul Basit, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, told reporters in Islamabad, the capital. Asked what options Pakistan had to retaliate, Basit said: "I leave it to your imagination."