The Pakistan government has protested to the United States military in Afghanistan over reports that U.S. troops pursuing suspected Taleban militants near the border fired into Pakistan, killing at least eight people. The protest comes as Pakistani forces intensify their own anti-insurgency operations in the region.
The alleged attack occurred Saturday in North Waziristan, a remote tribal region of Pakistan thought to be a safe haven for al-Qaida and Taleban insurgents.
Speaking to reporters, Pakistani Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Tasneem Aslam said the incident occurred several kilometers from the Afghan border.
Aslam said the U.S. military had rejected the accusations, but investigations are continuing.
"The Americans have denied that their troops were involved in the attack but we have initiated an inquiry," she noted. "We have also lodged a strong protest with coalition forces in Afghanistan."
Aslam dismissed reports that U.S. troops crossed the border and launched the attack from Pakistani soil. But she said Pakistan was investigating eyewitness accounts that a U.S. helicopter landed in the area and abducted at least five suspected militants.
U.S. officials in Afghanistan say they have no record of American helicopters targeting sites or landing inside Pakistan. Thousands of U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan are hunting suspected militants linked to the ousted Taleban regime and the al-Qaida terror network. Most of the operations focus on Southern Afghanistan and the mountainous border region with Pakistan, where al-Qaida leader Osama Bin Laden is thought to be hiding.
Clashes between Pakistani forces and suspected militants in North Waziristan have also intensified recently. Officials say armed militants overran a security checkpoint near the Afghan border Saturday night, killing all eight soldiers inside the station. Local tribes have refused to turn over those suspected of the attack. Security forces have given them a one-week deadline to comply.
Pakistani military spokesman General Shaukat Sultan says government forces are engaged in intense negotiations with tribal leaders. "The security forces have cordoned off some of the area and is pressing tribal elders to hand over the people responsible for the attack," said General Sultan.
Saturday's attack has increased concerns that the Pakistani government is losing control in North Waziristan. "It looks like the early stages of Afghanistan when the Taleban was about to take over," said Retired General Talat Masood, who is a defense analyst. "So the government is reacting to that and escalating violence on both sides."
General Masood says local supporters of Afghanistan's ousted Taleban regime are gaining ground in the region and challenging the government's authority.
In recent weeks, local Taleban activists have publicly hanged more than two-dozen alleged bandits and criminals in a popular effort to reduce crime.
Pakistani officials say the situation is under control but until neighboring Afghanistan is stabilized, it will be difficult to eliminate militant activity in the Waziristan tribal region.