Video: Report: Casualties in U.S.-led attack in Pakistan

updated 9/4/2008 11:38:39 AM ET 2008-09-04T15:38:39

Parliament condemned an American-led attack in Pakistani territory on Thursday after the government summoned the U.S. ambassador to protest the unusually bold raid in a troubled border region.

The same area was hit by a deadly missile strike Thursday, and a man who lives nearby said he later saw Taliban militants surround the site.

The criticism grew two days before Asif Ali Zardari is expected to be chosen as president in a vote by legislators. A spokesman said Zardari condemned Wednesday's pre-dawn assault in the South Waziristan tribal region. It killed at least 15 people, officials say, and was the first known foreign ground assault in Pakistan against a Taliban haven.

But Zardari also said Pakistan stands with the U.S. against international terrorism.

Pro-U.S. policy
Zardari, widower of former premier Benazir Bhutto, is expected to pursue a pro-U.S. policy similar to that of former President Pervez Musharraf and continue to go after Islamic militants accused of crossing into Afghanistan to attack the U.S.-led international security force there.

An American official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of cross-border operations, confirmed to The Associated Press that U.S. troops conducted the raid about a mile from the Afghan border.

It was unclear whether any extremist leader was killed or captured. Pakistan's border region is considered a likely hiding place for Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida's No. 2 leader, Ayman al-Zawahri.

Two Pakistani intelligence officials said a missile strike was suspected in a blast Thursday that killed four people in North Waziristan. Azeemullah Wazir, who lives in the area, said the explosion destroyed a house known to host foreigners. He said he heard three blasts and later saw Taliban militants surround the site.

The U.S. has been suspected in previous missile strikes in Pakistani territory.

Elsewhere in the volatile northwest, a firefight and airstrikes killed 37 Islamic militants Wednesday, officials said.

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi condemned Wednesday's attack, saying "no important terrorist or high-value target" was killed but that innocent citizens, including women and children were "targeted."

The ministry's spokesman said officials had no indication that U.S. forces had captured anyone.

Death toll disputed
Pakistan army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, citing witness and intelligence reports, said troops flew in on at least one big CH-47 Chinook transport helicopter, blasted their way into several houses and gunned down men they found there.

Army and intelligence officials as well as residents said 15 people died, while the provincial governor said 20 civilians, including women and children, were killed.

Pakistan's Senate and National Assembly passed resolutions Thursday condemning the attack.

In the past, similar protests over suspected U.S. missile attacks in Pakistani territory have led to little tangible effect on America's relationship with Pakistan, which has received billions of dollars from Washington for its aid in the U.S.-led war on terrorism.

Still, the operation in South Waziristan's Angoor Ada area threatened to complicate an already difficult relationship.

U.S. commanders have been pushing Pakistan to root out militants. American officials say destroying militant sanctuaries in Pakistani tribal regions is key to defeating Taliban-led militants in Afghanistan, whose insurgency has strengthened every year since 2001, when the fundamentalist militia was ousted for harboring bin Laden.

Suspected U.S. missile strikes killed at least two al-Qaida commanders this year in northwest Pakistan, angering many among the region's fiercely independent tribes.

In a sign of the complex nature of the situation along the porous border, a U.S. commander told the AP that U.S. troops in Afghanistan will step up offensive operations this winter because insurgents are increasingly staying in the country to prepare for spring attacks.

Maj. Gen. Jeffrey J. Schloesser said 7,000 to 11,000 insurgents operate in the eastern part of Afghanistan that he oversees — a far higher estimate than given by previous U.S. commanders.

He said the U.S. military realized more militants spent last winter in Afghanistan after speaking with elders and villagers who were pushed out of their homes. The spike in violence in the spring occurred because insurgents were already in position to unleash attacks, though U.S. officials did not know it at the time, he said.

In Washington, some administration officials have pressed President Bush to direct U.S. troops in Afghanistan to be more aggressive in pursuing militants into Pakistan on foot as part of a proposed radical shift in regional counterterrorism strategy, the AP learned.

'Battle for Pakistan's soul'
In a column Thursday in The Washington Post, Zardari described global terrorism as chief among the challenges facing his country. The column mentioned an apparent assassination attempt Wednesday against Pakistan's prime minister but did not refer to the earlier cross-border raid.

"We stand with the United States, Britain, Spain and others who have been attacked," wrote Zardari, whose wife was killed in a gun-and-bomb attack in December. "Fundamentally, however, the war we are fighting is our war. This battle is for Pakistan's soul."

A lawmaker from the chief opposition party of ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif blasted the U.S. for the attack.

"The American war against terrorism has become a war against Pakistan," Zafar Ali Shah said.

In another sign of opposition to Zardari, lawyers in the capital, Islamabad, scuffled with police in a protest over his broken promise to quickly reinstate judges ousted by Musharraf.

The circumstances of Wednesday's raid remained unclear, but U.S. rules of engagement allow American troops to chase militants across the border into Pakistan's tribal region when they are attacked. They may only go about six miles on the ground under normal circumstances. U.S. rules allow aircraft to go 10 miles into Pakistan air space.

However, army spokesman Abbas said "hot pursuit" wasn't an issue, calling the attack "completely unprovoked." He said Pakistani troops were near the village and saw and heard nothing to suggest the U.S. forces were pursuing insurgents.

He said the raid would undermine Pakistan's efforts to isolate Islamic extremists.

"We cannot afford a huge uprising at the level of tribe," Abbas told the AP. "That would be completely counterproductive and doesn't help the cause of fighting terrorism in the area."


Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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