Pakistan said a “cowardly” air strike by US-led forces killed 11 Pakistani troops on Wednesday near the Afghan border and warned it could undermine cooperation in the war against terrorism.
The army accused the US-led coalition in Afghanistan of launching the unprovoked attack on a checkpost in Pakistan’s volatile Mohmand tribal zone, while the foreign office called for an immediate investigation.
In Kabul, the coalition admitted carrying out an air strike in Pakistani territory but said it was targeted against militants firing at them from near the Pakistani paramilitary outpost.
The incident, the worst of its kind since Pakistan joined the “war on terror” in 2001, comes amid growing unease in Washington and Kabul over Pakistan’s efforts to negotiate with Taliban militants in the region.
In an unusually harsh statement, a Pakistani army spokesman “condemned this completely unprovoked and cowardly act” and confirmed that 11 soldiers died in the air strike, including an officer.
“The incident had hit at the very basis of cooperation and sacrifice with which Pakistani soldiers are supporting the coalition in the war against terror,” the statement quoted the spokesman as saying.
“We condemn it strongly. We will take a stand to preserve the sovereignty, dignity and respect of the country,” Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani told parliament.
President Pervez Musharraf backed the US-led toppling of Afghanistan’s Taliban regime after 9/11, but his support for Washington has angered many Pakistanis and attracted the wrath of Islamic militants at home.
The foreign office issued a statement condemning the “senseless use of air power” by the coalition.
“The attack also tends to undermine the very basis of our cooperation with the coalition forces and warrants a serious rethink on their part of the consequences that could ensue from such rash acts,” it said.
Heavily armed Pakistani tribesmen brandishing rocket launchers and Kalashnikov rifles gathered near the checkpost in the mountainous Gora Prai area to show their support after the attack, residents said.
The US-led coalition said an investigation was ongoing but did not specifically refer to the Pakistani allegations about the deaths of its soldiers.
In a statement, it said its soldiers had repelled a militant attack during an operation in Afghanistan’s eastern Kunar province that was previously coordinated with Pakistan.