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US and Pak soldiers: friend or foe?

world Updated: Nov 16, 2011 00:34 IST
Joshua Partlow

One evening last month, while patrolling along Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan, US soldiers came under a flurry of gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades from the vicinity of a Pakistani army checkpoint known as Border Post 4.

The soldiers with the 3rd platoon launched a warning flare, called a “red star cluster,” to identify themselves. For a moment, according to a US military summary of the incident, the firing stopped; then it resumed. The US soldiers shot back with their rifles and handheld 60mm mortars — a rare direct-fire engagement with a Pakistani border post.

But as with much concerning Pakistan’s role in the Afghan war, this firefight has left American soldiers at a loss for a clear explanation. It could have been a case of Pakistani soldiers firing on US troops to provide cover for insurgents maneuvering nearby, as some US soldiers initially concluded. Or, insurgents could have been firing from a checkpoint that had already been abandoned by Pakistani troops.

The murky episode is one small illustration of the challenge in defining Pakistan’s involvement with insurgents who are fighting US troops. The longer the Afghan war drags on, the more suspicion mounts that Pakistan’s security services provide a wide range of support for the Taliban and its allies. And with this suspicion, Afghan and US relations with Pakistan continue to deteriorate.

There is no shortage of accusations flying around. On the Afghan side, officials regularly accuse Pakistan’s military and intelligence services of using the Taliban to fight a proxy war against the US, their nominal ally. With equal conviction, Pakistani officials deny harbouring or helping the insurgency in any way and blame US and Afghan officials for allowing insurgent sanctuaries in Afghanistan.

On the border, the situation isn’t much clearer. US soldiers in Paktika, across North Waziristan, see the role of Pakistan as a somewhat abstract question - they do not let it distract them from the daily requirements of fighting the insurgency.

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