Pakistan is strongly protesting two incidents in which NATO helicopters launched air strikes into Pakistan while in pursuit of suspected Taliban militants fleeing across the border. NATO says at least 30 militants were killed. Afghan officials cited a higher death toll of at least 60 combatants.
The Pakistani government issued a statement late Monday strongly protesting the actions of NATO helicopter crews that reportedly followed hostile targets by air from Afghanistan into Pakistan. The statement said the incidents infringe upon Pakistan's sovereignty and are "a clear violation and breach" of the United Nations mandate for the international coalition in Afghanistan.
ISAF spokesman U.S. Captain Ryan Donald in Afghanistan said the first cross-border strike took place Friday after insurgents attacked an Afghan border outpost in eastern Khost province. "ISAF helicopters responded to the attack. And acting in self-defense, they engaged the attackers and crossed briefly - very briefly crossed - into Pakistan, engaged them [and] then came back."
In a second strike Saturday, two helicopters returned to the border area and came under fire before killing several more insurgents.
Parts of Pakistan's tribal areas along the Afghan border are considered militant strongholds, where insurgents regularly launch attacks against NATO troops in Afghanistan. The United States is known to use unmanned aircraft to carry out strikes in the area, but attacks by manned aircraft are rare.
NATO says the cross-border attacks fell within its rules of engagement because the insurgents had attacked them from across the border. Meanwhile, Pakistan maintains that there are no agreed "hot pursuit" rules that would permit the border crossing.
Rasool Bakhash Rais is an international relations expert based in Lahore. He said he he believes Pakistan's promise to "consider response options" to the military action is an empty threat. He said it is not practical to expect NATO troops to abandon pursuit of insurgents as they flee into Pakistan.
"Why would the [NATO] forces on the other side of the border, knowing full well that some militants have attacked their posts and they are running toward Pakistan, would simply stop at this undemarcated border between Afghanistan and Pakistan?" asked Rais.
Rais said he believes the Pakistani government, which is facing its own problems and credibility issues at home, issued the condemnation as a way of saving face domestically.