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The Pakistani military is accusing the U.S. of purposely killing its 24 soldiers on Saturday and Pakistani-American relations are, again, at a new low. It may be only a matter of time before Pakistani cooperation on counter-terrorism dwindles from little to nothing but the U.S. shouldn’t be blamed. The NATO airstrike, even if it was a case of misidentification, happened because Pakistan’s border posts allow terrorists to fire across the border.
The details of what happened on November 26 are sketchy, but it is known that U.S. and Afghan forces were attacked. Most reports say the attackers were the Taliban, while another says they belonged to a Salafi militia. The U.S. says it called the Pakistani military, which said it had no soldiers in the area. An airstrike was called in, which the Pakistanis say took place 300 yards inside their country and lasted for over an hour. It is suspected that NATO may have fallen for a Taliban ruse, and accidentally bombed a border post thinking it was a terrorist camp.
One account says that the Pakistani soldiers at the border post shot at a U.S. helicopter pursuing the terrorists, resulting in return fire, though the Pakistanis claim they did not fire first. It is unknown if the border post personnel tried to down the helicopter or if responsibility lies with terrorists sheltered in or near the base. Either way, Pakistan would be to blame for the incident.
Anti-American protests erupted in Pakistan and an effigy of President Obama was set on fire. Prime Minister Gilani said Pakistan’s relationship with the U.S. is no longer “business as usual.” The Pakistanis immediately shut off the supply route to Afghanistan. The trucks are now lined up at the border, vulnerable to attack. The Pakistanis are boycotting an international conference to discuss Afghanistan and is ordering the U.S. to evacuate the Shamsi Air Base, where drones take off from, within two weeks.
Clashes along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, including ones involving American forces, are more common than is recognized publicly. For example, on May 14, 2007, Pakistani soldiers and ISI intelligence operatives carried out a carefully laid-out ambush of American forces, killing one soldier. The incident was covered-up to prevent putting stress on the relationship between the two countries.
In May, shortly after the killing of Osama Bin Laden, Pakistani forces fired upon a U.S. Apache helicopter. Two Pakistani soldiers were wounded in the clash. The Pakistanis claimed the aircraft ventured into their airspace, which the U.S. denied. Since then, there has been an enormous increase in the amount of cross-border rocket fire. One Afghan province on the border suffered at least 55 attacks by the end of last month, whereas last year there were only two over the same period. There were at least 102 attacks across the border since May, when there were just 13 last year. U.S. forces are not allowed to fire back into Pakistan.
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