Conflict & Justice

Pakistan demands US to vacate suspected drone base in response to alleged NATO attack



A member of the U.S. Marine helicopter CH 53 crew sits at the back door as it flies over Marjah district in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, on May 3, 2011.


Bay Ismoyo

Pakistani officials demanded on Saturday that the US vacate an air base suspected of using unmanned droned within 15 days in response to an alleged NATO attack.

Military authorities in Pakistan accused NATO helicopters and jet fighters fired on two Pakistani military posts near the border of Afghanistan, killing at least 24 Pakistani soldiers. Islamabad made the demand in a statementsent to reporters following an emergency defense committee meeting chaired by Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, the Associated Press reported.

The "unprovoked and indiscriminate" attack has drawn condemnation from Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani, and prompted Pakistan to close the border crossing for NATO supplies vehicles heading into Afghanistan, said the BBC.

The alleged attack took place in the early hours of Saturday morning at the north-west Salala checkpoint, 1.5 miles from the Afghan border, Reuters reported.

At least 24 soldiers, including two officers, were killed, according to local media reports. Another 14 soldiers were reported wounded. No official casualty count has yet been released.

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Some 40 soldiers were deployed at the checkpoint, which was set up to prevent rebels in Afghanistan crossing the border into Pakistan, reported the New York Times.

The head of Pakistan's army, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, said in a statement that NATO forces had opened fire in an unprovoked act of "aggression" that prompted Pakistani troops to fire in self-defense, said the Washington Post. Pakistan does not allow coalition forces to enter or fire inside its territory without Islamabad's persmission, the Post said.

A NATO spokesperson told the BBC it was "highly likely" that coalition forces was responsible for casualties. Afghan and NATO troops were in the area when "a tactical situation developed," Brigadier-General Carsten Jacobsen said, which led to close air support being called in.

The incident underscores the shaky alliance between the US and Pakistan. Islamabad said the attacks were a "grave infringement" on the country's sovereignty and warned might affect future cooperation with Washington.

Prime Minister Gilani "strongly condemned" the attack, and has ordered the matter to be taken up "in the strongest terms" with NATO and the US, according to a statement from Pakistan's Foreign Ministry. Gilani has called an emergency cabinet meeting for Saturday evening to discuss a possible reponse, Pakistan's Dawn newsite said.

Pakistan’s acting ambassador to the US, Iffat Gardezi, "woke up the high-ups in Washington administration to convey the protest to the US government," national newspaper The Nation said.

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In a statement, the commander of NATO's International Security Assistance Force, General John R. Allen, offered his condolences to the families of the soldiers affected and pledged there would be an investigation.

The US ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron Munter, said in a statement that the US would "work closely with Pakistan to investigate this incident."

The AP described the incident as a "major blow to already strained relations" between Islamabad and US-led forces:

It will add to perceptions in Pakistan that the American presence in the region is malevolent, and to resentment toward the weak government in Islamabad for its cooperation with Washington.

Local reports said supply vehicles heading for NATO forces in Afghanistan were being stopped at a checkpoint near Peshawar on Saturday afternoon, apparently in response to the incident.

Trucks were quickly backed up near the Torkham border crossing, the Washington Post said, with drivers saying they feared attacks by armed rebels.

Pakistan temporarily closed the supply route last year after US helicopters mistakenly killed two Pakistani soldiers near the border.

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