Pakistan warned US troops not to intrude on its territory today, after the two anti-terror allies traded fire along the volatile border with Afghanistan. Yesterday's five-minute clash adds 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 Qa'eda militants. The clash - the first serious exchange with Pakistani forces acknowledged by the US - follows a string of other alleged border incidents and incursions that have angered many Pakistanis.
Speaking in New York, Pakistan's president tried to play down the incident, saying only "flares" were fired at foreign helicopters that he said strayed into his country from Afghanistan. US and Nato military officials said the ground troops and helicopters were in Afghan territory. The Pakistani government spokesman Akram Shaheedi urged US-led coalition forces "not to violate territorial sovereignty of Pakistan as it is counterproductive to the war on terror".
"It has been Pakistan's policy that we will not allow any one to violate our sovereignty, and we will continue to defend our territorial sovereignty," he said today. The clash occurred as the new Pakistani president, Asif Ali Zardari, was in New York meeting with the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The Afghan President Hamid Karzai was scheduled to meet with George W Bush today. Two American OH-58 reconnaissance helicopters, known as Kiowas, were on a routine patrol in the eastern province of Khost when they received small arms fire from the Pakistani border post, said Tech Sgt Kevin Wallace, a US military spokesman in Bagram, Afghanistan.
There was no damage to aircraft or crew, officials said. The US Central Command spokesman Rear Admiral Greg Smith said the helicopters had been escorting US 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 realised they should stop shooting", Rear Adm Smith said from Centcom headquarters in Florida.
The Pakistani forces fired back during a skirmish that lasted about five minutes. The joint patrol was moving about 1.6km inside Afghanistan, with the helicopters above, Rear Adm Smith said. The Pakistani military disputed the US version, saying its troops fired warning shots when the two helicopters crossed over the border - and that the US 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.