Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari lashed out at the US after their troops traded gunfire sparked by claims Pakistan forces shot at two US helicopters for alleged violation of airspace on the border with Afghanistan.
The US military said the helicopters were within Afghanistan territory providing cover for patrols in pursuit of militants when it came under fire from Pakistani troops, resulting in the exchange of gunshots by the two sides.
Pakistan’s military said its troops fired warning shots at the helicopters, which it insisted were “well within Pakistani territory.”
In a speech to the United Nations General Assembly, Zardari said Pakistan would not tolerate violations of its sovereignty, even by its allies.
“Just as we will not let Pakistan’s territory be used by terrorists for attacks against our people and our neighbours, we cannot allow our territory and our sovereignty to be violated by our friends,” he said without citing the United States or the border flareup.
“Unilateral actions of great powers should not inflame the passion of allies,” he further said, cautioning that any cross border raids could be counterproductive.
The sharp words he used, even after meetings with President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice this week at the sidelines of the United Nations meeting, underscore significant tensions between the “war on terror” allies, diplomats said.
A State Department spokesman earlier said Washington wanted an explanation from Pakistan, commenting that “the Taliban are not flying helicopters.”
“We have been in touch with the Pakistanis about this and we certainly want to have an explanation,” the spokesman said.
Relating the border shooting incident, United States military spokesman Rear Admiral Gregory Smith said Pakistani soldiers at a border checkpoint were observed firing on two US OH-58 Kiowa helicopters covering a patrol of Afghan and United States troops about a mile and a half inside Afghanistan.
“The ground forces then fired into the hillside nearby that checkpoint, gained their attention, which worked,” said Smith.
“Unfortunately, though, the Pak unit decided to shoot down a hillside at our ground forces. Our ground forces returned fire.”
“The whole thing lasted about five minutes,” he said. “It all ended quickly.”
US and Pakistani militaries are discussing the incident.
“We have to work our way through this so that we don’t have any escalation of force issues in the future,” Smith added.