Pakistan’s commanders in the Afghanistan border can return fire if attacked without waiting for permission, the army chief has said, a change in rules of engagement that could stoke further tension after the Nato strike that killed 24 Pakistani troops last Saturday.
Pakistan army chief General Ashfaq Kayani’s tough talk came even as US officials, quoted in the Wall Street Journal, said that Pakistani officials had cleared the Nato airstrike, unaware they had troops in the area.
The attack has sparked fury in Pakistan, leading to the closing of all Nato supply routes to Afghanistan and further complicated US-led efforts to ease a crisis in ties with Islamabad, still seething at a secret US raid in May that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
“I do not want there to be any doubt in the minds of any commander at any level about the rules of engagement,” General Kayani said on Friday.
“In case of any attack, you have complete liberty to respond forcefully, using all available resources. You do not need any permission for this.”
A military source explained that this amounted to a change in the rules for Pakistani forces guarding the western border against militant movements to and from Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, giving their first detailed explanation of the worst friendly-fire incident of the 10-year-old war, US officials told the Journal that an Afghan-led assault force that included US commandos was hunting Taliban militants when it came under fire from an encampment along the border with Pakistan.
The commandos thought they were being fired on by militants but they turned out to be Pakistani military personnel, they were quoted as saying. The commandos requested air strikes and were given the go-ahead.
A Pakistani military official denied the account, saying the aircraft had already engaged when Pakistan was contacted.