Pakistan has closed both border crossings to Afghanistan in the wake of a U.S. strike that killed two dozen Pakistani soldiers, and 300 supply trucks and fuel tankers upon which NATO/ISAF forces depend for half their supplies are stopped at the border and are now vulnerable to attack, the London Daily Mail reported Sunday.[1]  --  The London Guardian reported that calls for ending Pakistan's alliance with the U.S. are now even more widespread than before and that passions have been stoked by extensive coverage of the funeral of the Pakistani soldiers killed in the U.S. strike.[2]  --  As for the incident that caused the crisis, McClatchy Newspapers said that "the two sides offered widely disparate accounts of what might have taken place."[3]  --  "Pakistan's chief military spokesman said . . . he did not believe the attack could have been inadvertent.  Major Gen. Athar Abbas said the military outpost on a mountain top at Salala in the Mohmand part of Pakistan near the Afghan border was well marked on maps," Saeed Shah and Nancy Youssef reported.  --  "The attack lasted for more than an hour, Abbas said, during which ISAF troops made 'no attempt' to contact the Pakistani side using the established border co-ordination system. . . . 'This was a totally unprovoked attack.  There are no safe havens or hideouts left there (for militants) in Mohmand,' Abbas said.  'This was a visible, well-made post, on top of ridges, made of concrete.  Militants don't operate from mountain tops, from concrete structures.'" ...




** Worst single incident since U.S. and Pakistan became allies -- U.S. is ordered to leave Pakistani airbase in 15 days -- Supply trucks for U.S.-led troops in Afghanistan line up at closed border -- Pakistan says raid is 'attack on its sovereignty' -- 24 Pakistani soldiers buried Sunday **

Daily Mail (London)
November 27, 2011 (see original for many photographs & video of funeral of Pakistani soldiers)

Nearly 300 trucks carrying supplies to U.S.-led troops in Afghanistan clogged the Pakistani border crossings Sunday, leaving them vulnerable to militant attack a day after Islamabad closed the frontier in retaliation for coalition airstrikes that allegedly killed 24 Pakistani troops.

As Pakistan army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani attended the funerals of the victims, including a major, the U.S. sought to minimize the fallout from the crisis, which plunged Washington's already troubled relationship with Islamabad to an all-time low.

Pakistan also ordered the U.S. to vacate an airbase that is used by American drones to target al-Qaida and Taliban militants in the country's tribal region along the Afghan border.

There are forces working against a total rupture in the relationship.

Pakistan still relies on billions of dollars in American military and civilian aid, and the U.S. needs Islamabad's help to push Afghan insurgents to engage in peace talks.

But tensions could rise further if militants unleash attacks against the stranded trucks ferrying NATO supplies to Afghanistan.

The attack is the worst single incident of its kind since Pakistan uneasily allied itself with Washington in the days immediately following the September 11 attacks on U.S. targets.  

A spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said he believed aircraft that had been called in to provide air support for ground troops was responsible for the Pakistani casualties, reports.

NATO has called the attack a 'tragic unintended incident.'

Suspected militants destroyed around 150 trucks and injured drivers and police a year ago after Pakistan closed one of its Afghan border crossings to NATO supplies for about ten days in retaliation for a U.S. helicopter attack that accidentally killed two Pakistani soldiers.

The situation could be more dire this time because Pakistan, outraged at the alleged NATO attack before dawn Saturday, has closed both its crossings.

Nearly 300 trucks carrying coalition supplies are now backed up at Torkham in the northwest Khyber tribal area and Chaman in southwestern Baluchistan province.  Last year, Pakistan only closed Torkham.

A Pakistani military statement immediately denied those claims, saying they were attacked first and had to respond 'with all available weapons.'

Pakistani officials say the troops at the outposts were sleeping at the time of the attacks.

John Allen, the U.S. commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, issued a statement saying the incident had his 'highest personal attention.'

He said:  'My most sincere and personal heartfelt condolences go out to the families and loved ones of any members of Pakistan security forces who may have been killed or injured.'

The White House said on Saturday that senior U.S. civilian and military officials have extended condolences to their Pakistani counterparts following the deaths, with the Obama administration pledged a full investigation into the attack.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in a joint statement offered their 'deepest condolences' and said they 'support fully NATO's intention to investigate immediately.'

U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter also met with Pakistani government officials in Islamabad.

The statement said:  'In their contacts, these U.S. diplomatic and military leaders each stressed -- in addition to their sympathies and a commitment to review the circumstances of the incident -- the importance of the U.S.-Pakistani partnership, which serves the mutual interests of our people.

'All these leaders pledged to remain in close contact with their Pakistani counterparts going forward as we work through this challenging time,' the statement concluded.

The unidentified officials also said they wanted to work with Pakistan to investigate the deaths, the Associated Press reports.

The airstrike dealt a huge blow to American efforts to rebuild its strained relationship with Pakistan.

The White House statement did not address Pakistan's decision to block supply routes for the war in Afghanistan or its demand that the U.S. to vacate the base.

Supply trucks were stopped on their way into the country at the Takhtabeg check post in the tribal area of Khyber, Pakistan.

The two countries have found tensions rising since the killing of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden by U.S. special forces in a secret raid on the Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad in May.

Pakistan called the raid, which took place in the early hours of Saturday morning, a flagrant violation of its sovereignty while the Foreign Office equally condemned the attack.

'Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani has condemned in the strongest terms the NATO/ISAF attack on the Pakistani post,' ministry spokeswoman Tehmina Janjua said in a statement.

'On his direction, the matter is being taken (up) by the foreign ministry in the strongest terms with NATO and the U.S.'  

The commander of NATO-led forces in Afghanistan, General John R. Allen, said he had offered his condolences to the family of any Pakistani soldiers who 'may have been killed or injured' during an 'incident' on the border.   

A spokesman for the force declined further comment on the nature of the 'incident' and said an investigation was proceeding.  It was not yet clear, he said, whether there had been deaths or injuries.   

Two military officials said that up to 28 troops had been killed and 11 wounded in the attack on the Salala checkpoint, about 2.5 km (1.5 miles) from the Afghan border.   

The attack took place around 2:00 a.m. (2100 GMT) in the Baizai area of Mohmand, where Pakistani troops are fighting Taliban militants.

A senior Pakistani military officer said efforts were under way to bring the bodies of the slain soldiers to Ghalanai, the headquarters of Mohmand tribal region. 

'The latest attack by NATO forces on our post will have serious repercussions as they without any reasons attacked on our post and killed soldiers asleep,' he said, requesting anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.   

About 40 Pakistani army troops were stationed at the outpost, military sources said.  Two officers were reported among the dead.   

NATO supply trucks and fuel tankers bound for Afghanistan were stopped at Jamrud town in the Khyber tribal region near the city of Peshawar hours after the raid, officials said.    

'We have halted the supplies and some 40 tankers and trucks have been returned from the check post in Jamrud,' Mutahir Zeb, a senior government official, told Reuters.   

Another official said the supplies had been stopped for security reasons. 

'There is possibility of attacks on NATO supplies passing through the volatile Khyber tribal region, therefore we sent them back towards Peshawar to remain safe,' he said.   

The border crossing at Chaman in Baluchistan was also closed, Frontier Corps officials said.    

Pakistan is a vital land route for 49 percent of NATO's supplies to its troops in Afghanistan, a NATO spokesman said.   

Reflecting the confusion of war in an ill-defined border area, an Afghan border police official, Edrees Momand, said joint Afghan-NATO troops near the outpost Saturday morning had detained several militants.   

'I am not aware of the casualties on the other side of the border but those we have detained aren't Afghan Taliban,' he said, implying they were Pakistani Taliban operating in Afghanistan.   

The Afghanistan-Pakistan border is often poorly marked, and differs between maps by up to five miles in some places.   

The incident occurred a day after U.S. General John Allen met Pakistani Army Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani to discuss border control and enhanced cooperation.   

A similar incident on Sept 30, 2009, which killed two Pakistani troops, led to the closure of one of NATO's supply routes through Pakistan for 10 days. 

NATO apologized for that incident, which it said happened when NATO gunships mistook warning shots by the Pakistani forces for a militant attack.   

The attack is expected to further worsen U.S.-Pakistan relations, already at one of their lowest points in history, following a tumultuous year that saw the bin Laden raid, the jailing of a CIA contractor, and U.S. accusations that Pakistan backed a militant attack on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.   

The United States has long suspected Pakistan of continuing to secretly support Taliban militant groups in a bid to secure influence in Afghanistan after most NATO troops leave in 2014.  Saturday's incident will give Pakistan the argument that NATO is now attacking it directly.   

'I think we should go to the United Nations Security Council against this,' said retired Brigadier Mahmood Shah, former chief of security in the tribal areas.

'So far, Pakistan is being blamed for all that is happening in Afghanistan, and Pakistan's point of view has not been shown in the international media.'

He called the attack unprovoked and said Pakistan should respond by shooting down NATO aircraft and keeping the supply lines closed.   

'Those who say that Pakistan cannot afford a war with the U.S. and NATO, I think we should realize that U.S. and NATO also cannot afford a war with Pakistan.' 

Other analysts, including Rustam Shah Mohmand, a former ambassador to Afghanistan, said Pakistan would protest and close the supply lines for some time, but that ultimately 'things will get back to normal.'



World news


By Saeed Shah

** Pakistan sees widespread anti-U.S. protests on day images of 24 coffins containing those killed in NATO strike dominate media **

Guardian (London)
November 27, 2011

Images of the funerals of the young soldiers killed in the NATO attack on their checkpost filled television screens across Pakistan on Sunday, as a country already bursting with anti-Americanism found another reason to hate the U.S.

Prayers were held at a military base in Peshawar, provincial capital of the north-west, in front of 24 coffins laid out on a lawn, each wrapped in a Pakistan flag.  The head of the army, General Ashfaq Kayani, considered Pakistan's most powerful man, attended the funerals, as did the province's top civilian officials.

Each coffin was carried away by a guard of honor, to be buried in home towns and villages.

Casualties along the border with Afghanistan are usually from the paramilitary Frontier Corps, which recruits from Pakistan's tribal area, but these were regular soldiers from the heart of the country.  Patriotic music, usually reserved for wartime propaganda, was played as wall-to-wall TV coverage repeatedly showed the funerals.

Kayani also visited the 13 injured, who were being treated at a military hospital in Peshawar, again with cameras trailing him.

Among the dead were two young young officers, Major Mujahid Ali and Captain Usman, whose life stories the media seized upon, helped by the military's public relations machine.  Usman, 23, married last year and had a three-month-old daughter.

Reporters arrived at the tiny home of Ali, in the village of Naudero in the southern province of Sindh, to find a family in mourning.

His elderly mother, clutching a picture of her recently engaged son, said:  "I'm proud that my son has achieved martyrdom.  I'm grateful to God for it."

The city of Lahore, in the east of the country, saw protesters chant anti-American slogans.  There was a bigger demonstration outside the U.S. consulate in the port city of Karachi.  The Lahore rally included members of Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the militant group blamed for the 2008 attacks on Mumbai in India.

Thousands of people gathered outside the heavily fortified American consulate in Karachi, with angry cries of "Death to America."  An outbreak of sectarian violence elsewhere in the city probably prevented more from joining the protest.

In Mohmand, where the deadly strike on the checkpoint occurred, more than 1,000 tribal elders gathered in the district capital, demanding the Pakistan end its ties to the U.S.

"This was just simple murder," said Rasheed Ahmed, the senator for Mohmand.  "America is the big evil.  We are just a small mouthful in front of America." 

He said Islamabad had "missed the opportunity" to cut relations with Washington after the killing of Osama bin Laden in a raid in the garrison town of Abbottabad in May and the freeing in March of Raymond Davis, a CIA contractor accused of killing two Pakistanis during a shootout in Lahore.

"If we waste another opportunity, America will keep doing things like this," said Ahmed.

Rustam Shah, a former Pakistani ambassador to the Afghanistan, said the Pakistani military would now face pressure from within its own ranks to end co-operation with the U.S.

"The military will have to cope with rising levels of anger within, which is very dangerous," he said.

Public opinion in Pakistan largely blames terrorist violence in the country on the presence of the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan, and Islamabad's decision to ally with Washington.

Imran Khan, the former international cricketer turned politician, is riding a wave of rising popularity, with a campaign based on breaking the alliance with the U.S.  "It is time for our rulers to get out of America's war," he told a political rally in the Shujabad area of Punjab over the weekend.



By Saeed Shah and Nancy A. Youssef

McClatchy Newspapers
November 27, 2011

KARACHI, Pakistan -- Tension between Pakistan and the United States over a U.S. air strike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers grew Sunday as the two sides offered widely disparate accounts of what might have taken place.

NATO officials said Afghan and U.S. troops operating inside Afghanistan early Saturday had been fired on from the Pakistani side of the border and had requested close air support to help defend themselves.  What happened next is still under investigation, officials said.

But Pakistan's chief military spokesman said he did not believe that there had been any fire directed at the Americans from Pakistan and said he did not believe the attack could have been inadvertent.

Major Gen. Athar Abbas said the military outpost on a mountain top at Salala in the Mohmand part of Pakistan near the Afghan border was well marked on maps that both Pakistan and NATO have and that the U.S. air assault lasted for more than an hour.

"I cannot rule out the possibility that this was a deliberate attack by ISAF," Abbas said, referring to NATO's International Security Assistance Force by its acronym.  "If ISAF was receiving fire, then they must tell us what their losses were."

No NATO casualties have been acknowledged in Saturday's clash.  A military official in Washington identified the NATO forces involved as American.

The Saturday incident was by far the worst to date between the two supposed allies along the rugged Afghan-Pakistani border and sent U.S.-Pakistani relations to their lowest point since the May raid on Osama bin Laden's hideout, when U.S. troops entered Pakistan without notifying Pakistani officials and killed the al Qaida leader in the Pakistani city of Abbottabod.  U.S. officials believe bin Laden had lived for years in Abbottabod, the site of the Pakistan's premier military academy.

In Pakistan, a nation already bursting with anti-Americanism, public opinion was further riled by images of the funeral of the soldiers killed, which filled television screens Sunday.  The army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, considered Pakistan's most powerful man, attended the funeral services at a military base in Peshawar as did the top civilian officials from the north west.

Television images showed 24 coffins laid out on a lawn, each wrapped in a Pakistan flag.  Each coffin was carried away by an honor guard to be buried in the soldiers' home towns and villages.

In a statement, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen called Saturday's events a "tragic unintended incident."  But NATO provided no details on what took place, and U.S. Army Col. Greg Julian, a NATO spokesman, said officials are still trying to determine what happened after the joint U.S. and Afghanistan army units took fire from inside Pakistan.

U.S. officials in Washington, after a flurry of statements offering condolences Saturday, made no pronouncements Sunday.

The Pakistan positions hit are located about 300 yards inside Pakistan, Abbas said.  The attack lasted for more than an hour, Abbas said, during which ISAF troops made "no attempt" to contact the Pakistani side using the established border co-ordination system.  He said that the map references to the Pakistani positions had been previously passed to ISAF.

"This was a totally unprovoked attack.  There are no safe havens or hideouts left there (for militants) in Mohmand," Abbas said.  "This was a visible, well-made post, on top of ridges, made of concrete.  Militants don't operate from mountain tops, from concrete structures."

Taliban fighters often use Pakistan's tribal area as a sanctuary, from which to launch artillery or rockets, or as a place to retreat under fire from NATO.

In the past, much confusion has been caused by insurgents firing into Afghanistan from positions close to Pakistani check points, making it appear to NATO and Afghan troops that they are coming under attack from the Pakistani positions.

In an incident last year, Pakistani soldiers shot into the air to warn NATO helicopters that they had crossed the border, but that was mistaken by the aircraft crew for incoming fire.

ISAF commanders, however, suspect that Pakistani forces look the other way when their territory is being used by Afghan insurgents, or even actively collude in the attacks.  Pakistan angrily denies the charge.

The Pakistani military has repeatedly proclaimed that it has cleared Mohmand of Taliban and other extremists, only to have to launch new operations.  Local anti-Taliban militias operate in Mohmand to try to keep the extremists away.

Earlier this month, Maj. Gen. Daniel Allyn, who commands troops along Afghanistan's eastern border with Pakistan, told reporters at the Pentagon that there are on average three to four cross border attacks a week.  Most are blamed on the Taliban-allied Haqqani network, which U.S. officials have claimed is allowed to operate in Pakistan.

Pakistan announced Saturday that it would "review" all military, intelligence and diplomatic co-operation with the United States and ISAF forces in response to the incident.

Pakistan also closed its border with Afghanistan to trucks carrying supplies for ISAF and announced that American forces would be expelled from Shamsi, a remote air base in Pakistan secretly turned over to U.S. forces after the 9/11 attacks and used as a launching point for the U.S.'s highly controversial drone program.

On Sunday, Pakistan raised the possibility that it would also boycott next month's international Bonn conference, which is supposed to chalk out Afghanistan's future.

Tehmina Janjua, the spokesperson for Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the Bonn issue is "is being examined and no decision has yet been taken in this regard."  The conference is scheduled to begin Dec. 5.  Pakistan's cooperation is considered vital for stabilizing Afghanistan and bringing the Taliban into negotiations.

(McClatchy special correspondent Shah reported from Karachi, Youssef, from Washington.)