The fog of war on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border

June 12, 2008

Pakistani soldier near the borderPakistan’s Frontier Corps soldiers and U.S. led coalition-led troops just over the ill-defined border in Afghanistan must have been barely a few hundred yards apart on Tuesday night when 11 Pakistani soldiers were killed in an air strike that has touched off a new row between the two allies.

But their accounts of what really happened  in the frontier region of Mohmand are very different and sketchy, and to add to the confusion,  there is a third version from the Pakistan Taliban.

The Americans are saying they retaliated after coalition troops came under small arms fire and rocket propelled grenade fire about 200 yards inside Afghanistan’s Kunar province during an operation that had been previously coordinated with Pakistan.

The coalition fired artillery, and then used drones to locate more “anti-Afghan forces”, launched air strikes until the “threat was eliminated”.  The coalition also said that they informed the Pakistan Army that troops were being attacked from a wooded area near the Pakistani border checkpoint where the Pakistani Frontier Corps troops were killed.

Tribesmen check the torn clothes of a man killed by U.S. air strikeWrong, the Pakistan Army is saying. The trouble, according to Pakistani officials, began on Tuesday after Afghan troops tried to set up a post on a mountain ridge in a contested part of the frontier and Pakistani security forces told them to withdraw.

The Afghan forces were attacked inside Afghanistan by insurgents as they were withdrawing, the Pakistan Army said. And so they called in air strikes which hit the Pakistani Frontier Corps troops across the border.

A spokesman for the Pakistan Taliban said U.S. and Afghan forces were  setting up a position on the Pakistani side of the border,  and so its fighters launched an attack on coalition forces. Eight Taliban were killed in the U.S. bombing, it said.

So what happens now? Trust between the two allies has been broken as Reuters correspondent Zeeshan Haider says in this piece.  The role of the Frontier Corps, drawn from the Pashtun tribes in the Federally Administered Territories, has come under focus. Think tanks in Washington have raised doubts about their resolve and questioned the loyalties of these troops.

And then there is the larger political fallout of the deadliest air strikes in recent days. The lawyers’ ”long march” to Islamabad for the reinstatement of judges fired by President Pervez Musharraf may turn into an anti-American rally following the air strike.

Passions are already running high against Musharraf his main supporter, America,  and it won’t be long before it gets focused into an anti-American rally with demands for justice for the deaths of the soldiers.


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