Pakistan warned U.S. troops not to intrude on its territory on Friday, a day after the two anti-terror allies traded fire along the volatile border with Afghanistan.
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, in New York for the U.N. General Assembly, tempered the warning by praising U.S. support for his country as a “blessing.” He spoke standing beside Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice after a meeting at the U.N. with foreign ministers of major powers.
In Washington, Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Pakistani military leaders reassured him last week that they have no intention of using force against U.S. troops along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
Pakistani government spokesman Akram Shaheedi urged U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan “not to violate territorial sovereignty of Pakistan as it is counterproductive to the war on terror.”
A five-minute clash on Thursday between Pakistani and American forces added to already heightened tensions at a time the United States is stepping up cross-border operations in a region known as a haven for Taliban and al-Qaida militants.
The clash — the first serious exchange with Pakistani forces acknowledged by the U.S. — follows several incidents that have angered many here: a deadly American commando raid into the tribal areas on Sept. 3 and the apparent crash of a U.S. spy drone this week.
The American cross-border operations could undermine support for the U.S.-Pakistani alliance in fighting terrorism and risk further destabilizing the country at a time when the new government was still trying to assert its authority, analysts say.
Mullen: 'a time for teamwork, for calm'
Mullen said he has no reason to believe the Pakistan-U.S. relationship has changed as a result of Thursday’s border clash. He said Pakistan naturally reserves the right to defend itself but is committed to cooperating with the U.S. military.
“I’ve been given assurance by the senior military leadership in Pakistan that there is certainly no intent or plan to fire on (U.S.) forces,” Mullen told a Pentagon news conference.
He urged a cautious approach to confronting an increasingly bold Islamic extremist insurgency in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border area.
“Now more than ever is a time for teamwork, for calm,” he said.
Zardari tried to downplay Thursday’s clash, saying only warning flares were fired at foreign helicopters when they strayed into his country from Afghanistan.
U.S. and NATO military officials said the ground troops and helicopters were in Afghan territory.
The clash occurred as Zardari was in New York meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Afghan President Hamid Karzai. He was to meet President Bush Friday.
“Just as we will not let Pakistan’s territory to be used by terrorists for attacks against our people and our neighbors, we cannot allow our territory and our sovereignty to be violated by our friends,” Zardari said Thursday. “Unilateral actions of great powers should not inflame the passions of allies.”
Two American OH-58 reconnaissance helicopters, known as Kiowas, were on a routine patrol in the eastern Afghan province of Khost when they received small-arms fire from a Pakistani border post, said Tech Sgt. Kevin Wallace, a U.S. military spokesman in Afghanistan. There was no damage to aircraft or crew.
U.S. Central Command spokesman Rear Adm. Greg Smith said the helicopters had been escorting U.S. troops and Afghan border police.
When the helicopters were fired on, the ground forces fired rounds meant not to hit the Pakistani troops, but “to make certain that they realized they should stop shooting,” Smith said from Centcom headquarters in Florida.
The Pakistani forces fired back.
The joint patrol was moving about a mile from the border inside Afghanistan, with the helicopters above, Smith said.
The Pakistani military disputed the U.S. version, saying its troops fired warning shots when the two helicopters crossed over the border — and that the U.S. helicopters fired back.
“When the helicopters passed over our border post and were well within Pakistani territory, own security forces fires anticipatory warning shots. On this, the helicopters returned fire and flew back,” a Pakistani military statement said.
Suicide bombing in Karachi
In other developments Friday, three men blew themselves up in Pakistan’s largest city Karachi. They were suspected of planning an attack on a “high-profile” target in the city, said Sindh police chief Babar Khattak. The police raided the house on a tip from a leader of an al-Qaida-linked militant group, Khattak said.
“Police definitely averted a big attack from happening in this city,” he said.
Police seized at least 22 pounds of explosives, two suicide jackets, seven pistols and 12 hand grenades from the house. They also found the body of a man in handcuffs in the rubble of the house and was identified as a wealthy supplier of fuel and goods to U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, senior police official Aleem Jaffry told The Associated Press.
A bomb blast caused a train to derail in eastern Punjab province, killing four people and wounding 15 others.
Pakistan’s top general, Maj. Gen. Tariq Khan, said the army will regain control the restive tribal area of Bajur that borders Afghanistan within “two to three months.” The offensive began in August.