Thursday, June 12, 2008

Pakistan Angry as Strike by U.S. Kills 11 Soldiers

American air and artillery strikes killed 11 Pakistani paramilitary soldiers during a clash with insurgents on the Afghan border on Tuesday night, a development that raised concerns about the already strained American relationship with Pakistan.The strikes underscored the often faulty communications involving American, Pakistani and Afghan forces along the border, and the ability of Taliban fighters and other insurgents to use havens in Pakistan to carry out attacks into neighboring Afghanistan.

The attack comes at a time of rising tension between the United States and the new government in Pakistan, which has granted wide latitude to militants in its border areas under a new series of peace deals, drawing criticism from the United States.

NATO and American commanders say cross-border attacks in Afghanistan by insurgents have risen sharply since talks for those peace deals began in March.

Although Pakistani government officials softened their response through the day on Wednesday, the Pakistani military released an early statement calling the airstrikes “unprovoked and cowardly.”

Shaken by the initial Pakistani reaction, administration officials braced for at least a short-term rough patch in relations with Islamabad.

“It won’t be good,” said a Pentagon official who followed developments closely throughout the day. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

The precise circumstances surrounding the reported deaths remained unclear, and American officials said an American-Pakistani investigation was expected to begin immediately.

But according to accounts from American officials, the incident started when Taliban fighters from Pakistan crossed about 200 yards into Kunar Province, on the Afghan side of the border, and attacked American-led forces with small-caliber weapons and rocket-propelled grenade fire.

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