The US has apologised for a deadly helicopter strike on Pakistani soil in a move Washington hopes will encourage Islamabad to reopen a blocked Nato supply route to Afghanistan that has been repeatedly attacked by Taliban militants.
At least two Pakistani soldiers were killed in the incident last week when Nato choppers opened fire in a cross-border raid after mistaking them for militants. Pakistan shut the main land route for Nato supplies into Afghanistan following the intrusion into its territory.
"We extend our deepest apology to Pakistan and the families of the Frontier Scouts who were killed and injured," the US ambassador Anne Patterson said in a statement in Islamabad today. "Pakistan's brave security forces are our allies in a war that threatens both Pakistan and the US." But delicate relations between the two countries could be further strained by a White House report to Congress today which warned Pakistani forces were avoiding "direct conflict" with the Afghan Taliban and al Qa'eda in the northwest tribal zone.
The report said the Pakistani military had continued operations against insurgents in lawless South Waziristan, but added that soldiers stayed close to roads and that operations were progressing "slowly". Washington will be hoping that Islamabad will accept its apology for the helicopter raid and reopen the Khyber border crossing, which is vital to supplying the 152,000 US and Nato troops in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban.
About 100 Nato oil tankers and supply trucks have been destroyed in Taliban attacks over the past week since the border crossing was shut as the militants step up their efforts to disrupt supply routes into Afghanistan where the insurgency is now entering its 10th year since the October 7, 2001 invasion. The Pakistani Taliban vowed more attacks to avenge a new wave of US drone strikes targeting Taliban and al Qa'eda militants in northwest Pakistan linked to an alleged terror plot against European cities.
"We will further intensify attacks with the intensification of US drone strikes on us," a Tehreek-e-Taliban spokesman Azam Tariq said.
The United States has massively ramped up its drone campaign in the lawless tribal region on the Afghan border, which it calls the global headquarters of al Qa'eda and the most dangerous place on Earth. Eight people were killed today in the latest attacks by the pilotless planes against militants in North Waziristan tribal district.
A security official said five rebels were killed in a missile attack on a militant compound in Miranshah, the main town in North Waziristan. Hours later at least three militants were killed in another drone strike on a house in Mir Ali, in the same area, security officials said. Pakistan's ambassador in Washington, Hussein Haqqani, told the BBC that the increase in strikes in North Waziristan came after intelligence agencies uncovered the plot to "attack multiple targets in Europe".
He also said that a drone strike on Monday in the district which killed eight militants, including five Germans, was linked to the plot.