NATO helicopter attack kills 3 Pakistani troops near the Afghan border, officials say

By Hussain Afzal, AP
Thursday, September 30, 2010

Officials: NATO chopper kills 3 Pakistani troops

PARACHINAR, Pakistan — A NATO helicopter attacked a Pakistani border post near Afghanistan on Thursday, killing three troops, security officials in Pakistan said. Later, government officials said they were ordered to stop trucks carrying supplies for international forces from entering Afghanistan at a major border crossing.

NATO said it was investigating the allegations and whether they were linked to an operation against insurgents in a nearby Afghan province.

The accusations and the fallout were likely to exacerbate tensions between Islamabad and Washington, which is struggling to beat back a resurgent Taliban movement in the 9-year-old Afghan war. Over the weekend, NATO choppers fired on targets in Pakistan, killing several alleged insurgents they had pursued over the border from Afghanistan.

Islamabad protested the intrusion into its territory that has inflamed already pervasive anti-American sentiments among Pakistanis.

On Thursday, two government officials told The Associated Press they were ordered to stop NATO supply trucks from crossing into Afghanistan at the Torkham border post, a major entryway for NATO materials at the edge of the Khyber tribal region. No reason was given for the blockage, but earlier this week Pakistan threatened to stop providing protection to NATO convoys if the military alliance’s choppers attacked targets inside Pakistan again.

Pakistani security officials differed on the exact location of the deadly airstrike, saying it took place either in Upper Kurram or Upper Orakzai. The remote, mountainous tribal regions neighbor each other. The border between them, as well as the one with Afghanistan, is poorly marked.

Many of the border troops wear uniforms that resemble the traditional Pakistani dress of a long shirt and baggy trousers — which could make it hard to distinguish them from ordinary citizens or insurgents.

The dead men were from a paramilitary force tasked with safeguarding the border, the Pakistani security officials said. Their bodies were taken to the region’s largest town of Parachinar, one official said. Three troops also were wounded.

The Pakistani officials all spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation and because in some cases they were not authorized to release the information to the media.

Lt. Col. John Dorrian, a spokesman for intelligence and special operations at NATO headquarters in Kabul, said coalition forces observed early Thursday what they believed were insurgents firing mortars at a coalition base in Dand Wa Patan district of Paktia province in eastern Afghanistan.

“A coalition air weapons team called for fire support and engaged the insurgents,” he said. “The air weapons team reported that it did not cross into Pakistani air space and believed the insurgents were located on the Afghan side of the border.”

Dorrian said NATO was reviewing the reports to see if the operation in Paktia was related to Pakistan’s reports its forces were hit by NATO aircraft.

In June 2008, a U.S. airstrike killed 11 Pakistani troops and frayed the two nations’ ties. Pakistan said the soldiers died when U.S. aircraft bombed their border post in the Mohmand tribal region. U.S. officials said their coalition’s aircraft dropped bombs during a clash with militants. They expressed regret over the deaths, but said their attack was justified.

Pakistan and the U.S. have a complicated, but vital, relationship, with distrust on both sides.

Polls show many Pakistanis regard the United States as an enemy, and conspiracy theories abound of U.S. troops wanting to attack Pakistan and take over its nuclear weapons. The Pakistani government has to balance its support for the U.S. war in Afghanistan — and its need for billions in American aid — with maintaining the support from its own population.

The U.S. and NATO need Islamabad’s cooperation in part because of their supply routes. Some 80 percent of non-lethal supplies for foreign forces fighting in landlocked Afghanistan cross Pakistani soil after being unloaded at docks in Karachi, a port city in the south.

Pakistani security forces provide security for the convoys, which are often attacked by militants and bandits as they travel north. While NATO and the United States have alternative supply routes, the Pakistani ones are the cheapest and most convenient.

The Pakistani government officials said about 250 vehicles of NATO supplies cross into Afghanistan daily at the Torkham border post.

There were more than 100 NATO vehicles blocked at the checkpoint by Thursday morning, they said.


Riechmann reported from Kabul, Afghanistan. Associated Press writers Munir Ahmed in Islamabad and Riaz Khan in Peshawar contributed to this report.

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