15 reportedly killed in US-led Pakistan attack: AFP
By ISHTIAQ MAHSUD – AFP, September 3, 2008
DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan (AP) — Women and children were among 15 people killed in an attack Wednesday involving U.S.-led forces in a Pakistani village near the border with Afghanistan, officials and a resident said.
1st Lt. Nathan Perry, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan, said it had "no information to give" about the alleged operation, while a spokesman for NATO troops there denied any involvement.
The United States and Pakistan, allies in the war on terror, have had tensions over cross-border attacks, including a series of suspected American missile strikes which have killed two senior al-Qaida operatives in Pakistani territory this year.
Officials gave differing accounts of the pre-dawn raid in the South Waziristan region, part of the tribal belt where officials suspect Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahri are hiding. It was unclear whether any militant leaders had been killed or captured.
The governor of North West Frontier Province, the chief administrator for the tribal belt, said three coalition helicopter gunships and commandos carried out an "outrageous" attack on a village.
"At least 20 innocent civilians of Pakistan including women and children were martyred," Gov. Owais Ahmed Ghani said in a statement.
However, Defense Minister Ahmad Mukhtar said homes near the border had been shelled by NATO aircraft and made no mention of ground forces. "No one carries out shelling without any reason after coming from far away," Mukhtar told reporters in Lahore.
Pakistan army spokesman Maj. Murad Khan said it also had reports that 15 people, including women and children, died in the attack near Angoor Ada, a town in South Waziristan.
Officials said both the army and the Foreign Ministry were investigating.
Habib Khan Wazir, an area resident, said the incident occurred in a village called Musa Nikow. Wazir said he heard the sound of helicopters and then an exchange of fire between the assailants and other residents.
"Later, I saw 15 bodies inside and outside two homes. They had been shot in the head," Wazir told an AP reporter by telephone.
He said the dead included women and children and that all were civilians. He claimed that the attackers were American and Afghan troops, and didn't know if any of them had been wounded.
"There was darkness at the time when the Americans came and killed our innocent people," Wazir said. "We would have not allowed them to go back alive if they had come to our village in daylight."
He said the funerals of the slain people would be held in the village later Wednesday.
The U.S. embassy in Islamabad declined to comment.
American officials say Pakistan's tribal regions along the Afghan border have turned into havens for al-Qaida and Taliban-linked militants involved in attacks on U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. South Waziristan is the base for Pakistan's top Taliban leader, Baitullah Mehsud.
The U.S. has pushed Pakistan to crack down on the militancy inside its territory, and there have been debates in Washington over how far the U.S. can go in carrying out its own strikes.
AP reported last year that U.S. rules of engagement allowed ground forces to go a little over six miles into Pakistan when in hot pursuit, and when forces were targeted or fired on by the enemy. U.S. rules allow aircraft to go 10 miles into Pakistan air space.
Pakistani officials protest that cross-border strikes are a violation of their sovereignty. They plead with U.S. and NATO commanders to share intelligence and allow Pakistani troops to carry out all raids on their territory.
Relations took a hit earlier this year when Pakistan said coalition aircraft bombed one of its border posts, killing 11 troops.
However, the civilian government has also taken a tough line against militants, and sought to persuade a skeptical public that security forces are fighting Islamic extremists for Pakistan's sake, not for Washington.
Ghani, who was appointed governor under ousted ex-President Pervez Musharraf and is expected to be replaced shortly, said Wednesday's incident was a "direct assault" on Pakistan.
"The people of Pakistan expect that the armed forces of Pakistan would rise to defend the sovereignty of the country and give a befitting reply," he said in a statement.
Associated Press writers Munir Ahmad in Islamabad and Fisnik Abrashi in Kabul contributed to this report.