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'Self-defense': NATO choppers strike Pakistan

/ Source: msnbc.com staff and news service reports

NATO helicopters based in Afghanistan carried out at least two airstrikes in Pakistan that killed more than 50 militants after the insurgents attacked a small Afghan security outpost near the border, officials said Monday.

NATO justified the strikes based on "the right of self-defense." Pakistan is sensitive about attacks on its territory, but U.S. officials have said they have an agreement that allows aircraft to cross a few miles into Pakistani airspace if they are in hot pursuit of a target.

The tribal area where the strikes took place is largely controlled by militants who regularly carry out attacks against NATO troops in Afghanistan. The U.S. rarely uses manned aircraft to carry out strikes in North Waziristan and instead relies on drone attacks that American officials refuse to acknowledge publicly.

The first strike took place Saturday after insurgents based in Pakistan attacked an Afghan outpost in Khost province, which is located right across the border from Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal area, said U.S. Capt. Ryan Donald, a spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.

"The ISAF helicopters did cross into Pakistan territory to engage the insurgents," said Donald. "ISAF maintains the right to self-defense, and that's why they crossed the Pakistan border."

The strike killed 49 militants, said U.S. Maj. Michael Johnson, another ISAF spokesman.

'Operating in self-defense'
The second attack occurred when helicopters returned to the border area and were attacked by insurgents based in Pakistan, Donald said.

"The helicopters returned to the scene and they received direct small arms fire and, once again operating in self-defense, they engaged the insurgents," Donald said.

The strike killed at least four militants, Johnson said.

Citing ISAF, the BBC , but added that this had not been independently confirmed.

The drone flights have caused resentment in overwhelmingly Muslim Pakistan, where anti-American feeling runs high.

U.S. officials say the pilotless drones are one of the most effective weapons against militants. The strikes have killed senior Taliban and al-Qaida figures.

A new book by veteran U.S. journalist Bob Woodward claims that the Central Intelligence Agency also has a 3,000-man "covert army" of elite, well-trained Afghans, who conduct secret operations in Pakistan, according to the Washington Post.

Meanwhile, Pakistani intelligence officials said two NATO helicopters carried out a third strike inside Pakistani territory on Monday morning, killing five militants and wounding nine others.

The strike occurred in the village of Mata Sanger in the Kurram tribal area, which is directly across the border from the Afghan provinces of Paktia and Nangarhar, said the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

Donald, the NATO spokesman, said officials were still investigating and could not confirm or deny reports of the attack in Kurram.

The Pakistani military could not be reached to comment on the NATO attacks.