NATO Accused of Killing at Least 14-28 Pakistani Soldiers in Cross-Border Assault27/11/2011 00:02
Pakistan has alleged that NATO conducted a cross-border helicopter attack operation that resulted in the murder of at least 20 Pakistani troops near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border early Saturday.
This comes as relations between the United States and Pakistan are already quite strained over the continued American drone attacks that defy Islamabad’s requests to cease the operations.
The incident was quickly decried as an egregious violation of Pakistani sovereignty, which Pakistan has been increasingly vocal about.
Back in May of this year, China had backed up Pakistan’s demands to respect their sovereignty, although it appears that the West has no interest in doing such.
Pakistani officials said that the attack occurred around 2 am Saturday morning at a checkpoint in Salala which was manned by Pakistan’s army.
Salala is a village in what The Los Angeles Times characterizes as “the restive tribal region of Mohmand,” and 50 soldiers were at the checkpoint at the time of the attack according to officials.
The Pakistani officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the matter but NATO officials confirmed that they were aware of Pakistan’s allegations and were investigating the matter.
The Pakistani government “retaliated,” if you could call it that, by closing a border crossing that is used by convoys that deliver supplies to NATO troops in Afghanistan.
Pakistani officials said that they had closed the Torkham checkpoint at the Khyber Pass and suspended movement of NATO tankers and supply vehicles traveling into Afghanistan through the checkpoint.
This is hardly retaliation given the fact that coalition forces attacked Pakistani soldiers in sovereign Pakistani territory for no reason at all.
The Los Angeles Times cites a quite similar incident on September 30th, 2009, when NATO helicopters killed two Pakistani soldiers at a border checkpoint in the Pakistani Kurram tribal region near the Afghan border.
The American government and NATO officially apologized for the murder of the two Pakistanis, claiming that the crews manning the helicopters believed the soldiers were insurgents they were pursuing across the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In reaction to this assault on Pakistani sovereignty, they stopped allowing the movement of fuel and supplies to NATO troops in Afghanistan through the Torkham checkpoint for 11 days.
This shutdown bottlenecked the transportation system and left NATO tankers and trucks vulnerable to attack across Pakistan, resulting in more than 150 NATO trucks being set on fire or damaged and six deaths.
Early numbers cited by the London Telegraph said that 14 Pakistani troops were killed in the NATO incursion, but Russia Today puts the number at 25 and the Sidney Morning Herald cites the Pakistani government’s number of 24 dead troops.
The Telegraph cites two intelligence officials in the region who report that up to 14 Pakistani troops were killed and seven wounded in the assault.
Russia Today is reporting that two anonymous intelligence agents and one government official said that 25 troops were killed and five more were wounded.
The Sidney Morning Herald cites Pakistani security officials who say that at least 24 soldiers have been killed and more than a dozen were injured.
They report that an official located at the paramilitary Frontier Corps headquarters in the city of Peshawar, the capital of the north-west province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa said that initial reports showed 22 soldiers and two officers were killed and 15 other troops were wounded in the attack.
Provincial governor Masood Kausar, who is the head of seven tribal districts’ civilian government said, “This is an attack on Pakistan’s sovereignty and such attacks will not be further tolerated.”
The acting Pakistani Ambassador in Washington, Iffat Gardezi has also expressed strong protest with the U.S. Department of State over the cross-border assault, according to Geo Television.
The Khyber district supplies more than 50% of supplies to coalition troops in Afghanistan and Jamil Khan, a senior Khyber security official said, “So far 50 trucks have been turned back.”
NATO is keeping quite silent on the matter so far, with Lieutenant Commander Brian Badura, the spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) saying, “We are aware that there has been an incident in the border region.”
“Right now we are gathering details and starting to investigate what happened,” Badura said.
It remains to be seen if NATO will take responsibility for this egregious assault on Pakistani sovereignty and how the Pakistani government will handle the response.
There also might be some critical responses from Pakistani allies like China which have been highly critical of Western incursions in the near past.
UPDATE: Reuters is now reporting that two Pakistani military sources are estimating that the number of dead is 28, three more than the closest estimate from a different news source.
The same sources say that 11 soldiers were wounded and 40 were manning the post at the time of the attack. What is clear at this point is that the details are very unclear. We will keep you updated as information becomes available.