ISLAMABAD — Pakistan has criticized a pair of NATO airstrikes on its territory that killed over 50 militants, saying they were a violation of its sovereignty. U.S. officials have said they have an agreement that allows aircraft to cross a few miles (kilometers) into Pakistani airspace if they are in hot pursuit of a target. But Pakistan denied Monday such an agreement exists. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a press release Monday that the mandate of foreign troops in Afghanistan ends at the Afghan border.
Pakistan said that unless corrective measures are implemented, it will have to "consider response options."
The airstrikes occurred Saturday in Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal area after militants attacked a small Afghan security post near the border.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
ISLAMABAD (AP) — NATO helicopters based in Afghanistan carried out at least two airstrikes in Pakistan that killed more than 50 militants after the insurgents attacked a small Afghan security outpost near the border, spokesmen said Monday. NATO justified the strikes based on "the right of self-defense." Pakistan is sensitive about attacks on its territory, but U.S. officials have said they have an agreement that allows aircraft to cross a few miles into Pakistani airspace if they are in hot pursuit of a target.
The first strike took place Saturday after insurgents based in Pakistan attacked an Afghan outpost in Khost province, which is located right across the border from Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal area, said U.S. Capt. Ryan Donald, a spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.
"The ISAF helicopters did cross into Pakistan territory to engage the insurgents," said Donald. "ISAF maintains the right to self-defense, and that's why they crossed the Pakistan border." The strike killed 49 militants, said U.S. Maj. Michael Johnson, another ISAF spokesman. The second attack occurred when helicopters returned to the border area and were attacked by insurgents based in Pakistan, said Donald.
"The helicopters returned to the scene and they received direct small arms fire and, once again operating in self-defense, they engaged the insurgents," said Donald. The strike killed at least four militants, said Johnson. The tribal area where the strikes took place is largely controlled by militants who regularly carry out attacks against NATO troops in Afghanistan. The U.S. rarely uses manned aircraft to carry out strikes in North Waziristan and instead relies on drone attacks that American officials refuse to acknowledge publicly.
Pakistani intelligence officials said two NATO helicopters carried out a third strike inside Pakistani territory on Monday morning, killing five militants and wounding nine others.
The strike occurred in the village of Mata Sanger in the Kurram tribal area, which is directly across the border from the Afghan provinces of Paktia and Nangarhar, said the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media. Donald, the NATO spokesman, said officials were still investigating and could not confirm or deny reports of the attack in Kurram.
The Pakistani military could not be reached to comment on the NATO attacks.
The International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) said it had crossed over the border into Pakistan after coming under fire in the Khost region of Afghanistan. It said 49 insurgents had been killed. Two Apache helicopters again crossed the border on Saturday, killing four to six insurgents, after coming under small-arms fire from the same area, it said. Isaf has said the raids followed its rules of engagement in the region and that it has the right to enter Pakistan's airspace while pursuing a target. "Isaf forces must and will retain the authority, within their mandate, to defend themselves in carrying out their mission," a Nato official told the AFP news agency.
But in a statement, Pakistan's ministry of foreign affairs said the incidents had been "a clear violation and breach of the UN mandate under which Isaf operates". It said Isaf's mandate ended at the Afghan border and there were "no agreed 'hot pursuit' rules" allowing Isaf troops to cross into Pakistan. "Any impression to the contrary is not factually correct. Such violations are unacceptable. "In the absence of immediate corrective measures, Pakistan will be constrained to consider response options."
Islamabad backs much of the military action taking place against insurgents operating around the border region in Afghanistan, says our correspondent. So the strong statement is largely directed at a domestic audience in Pakistan, he adds, among whom anti-American sentiment has been fuelled by the escalating numbers of unmanned drone attacks on targets in the country. Isaf has not revealed the location of the raid operation or which country's forces were involved. It said no civilians were killed in the operation, but this has not been independently confirmed. Isaf's force was established by the UN in late 2001 with a stated mission of promoting security and development. It is also training Afghan soldiers and police.