US air strike on Pakistan | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, June 21, 2008 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, June 21, 2008

US air strike on Pakistan

IN a new escalation of US-Pakistan tensions, on June 11, a US air strike was performed in the Mohmand tribal region in the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA), which is in south western Pakistan bordering Afghanistan.
Pentagon officials said two US F-15E fighter-bombers and a B-1 bomber had dropped a dozen bombs, mostly 500-pound laser-guided munitions, on the location killing eleven soldiers, including an officer, and wounded ten people, including three civilians, in the strike.
The US has mounted a series of missile attacks within Pakistan this year. In March, three bombs, seemingly dropped by an American aircraft, killed nine people and wounded nine others in the tribal area of South Waziristan.
As recently as May 15, US missile attacks hit Bajaur village in Damadola, killing at least fourteen people. But this is the first time that such an assault has killed Pakistani troops since Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf signed up for Washington's so-called war on terror and helped to oust the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in 2001.
Conflicting statements are given by Pakistani and US spokesmen of the incident. A Pakistani military official said US forces bombed the strategic Pakistani checkpoint after his country's troops repulsed 30-40 Afghan government soldiers who had attempted to occupy a strategic location on the Pakistani side of the border in the Soran Dara area. A security official told Pakistan's Daily Times the Afghan army, backed by US forces, tried to set up a post inside Pakistani territory but retreated on the Frontier Force's request.
Anti-US militants then attacked the Afghan troops, who called for US air cover, the official said on condition of anonymity. US forces then bombed the area relentlessly, he said. Pakistani military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said US-led forces provided air support to the Afghan soldiers. “We believe it was a deliberate act of aggression,” he insisted.
The general rejected Pentagon claims that the operation had been coordinated with Pakistan and was intended to defend Pakistani troops against “anti-Afghan forces”. General Abbas told Al Jazeera: “This is an absolutely baseless allegation or explanation. We have co-ordination, we have intelligence-sharing. If there was some doubt about any post they should have informed us before taking up any strike.”
Afghanistan's military has declined to comment on the incident. But the Pentagon arrogantly defended the air strike, saying that it “may have accidentally killed allied fighters”.
Geoff Morrell of US Defence department spokesman cast doubt on the Pakistani claims without providing any evidence. “It's too early to know whether the strike killed any Pakistani paramilitary forces,” he said, insisting the bombing was “a legitimate strike”. A Pakistan military spokesman denounced the assault as a “completely unprovoked and cowardly act”, and complained that “the incident has hit at the very basis of cooperation and sacrifice with which Pakistani soldiers are supporting the coalition in the war against terror.”
Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani condemned the attack in the parliament, saying: “We will take a stand for sovereignty, integrity and self-respect and we will not allow our soil (to be attacked).”
The PPP-led coalition government issued a formal protest to Washington, with a Foreign Ministry statement declaring the “senseless use of air power against a Pakistani border post” is “totally unacceptable”. The statement demanded an investigation into the incident and asked the results be shared with the Pakistan government.
The recently elected government faces mounting public anger over the escalating US aggression in border areas. A Peshawar parliamentarian told the Associated Press (AP) that outrage among ordinary people was increasing. Local tribe members rallied near the bombed checkpoint in protest, brandishing rocket launchers and Kalashnikov rifles.
This is the first time, however, that Pakistan has openly denounced a US-led coalition attack on its territory. Despite public anger over earlier attacks, official criticism was muted under the Musharraf regime. Even as late as last month's predator strike in Damadola, Pakistan lodged a protest with the coalition forces, but stopped from hitting out in public.
Pakistan's ambassador to Washington, Hussain Haqqani, later denied that his government viewed the air strike as an intentional hostile act. He told Reuters the incident would not cause Pakistan to reconsider its relationship with Washington, “but rather find ways of improving that partnership”.
The bombing came as the Bush administration and the Pentagon stepped up their expressions of displeasure at the Pakistani government's efforts to strike a peace deal with the Taliban groups that have built up their influence along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
The Washington Post reported that Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff warned on June 10 that “the Al-Qaeda threat from Pakistan” represented a “huge challenge for the United States” and that “Pakistan has been lacking in its execution of a strategy to eradicate the safe havens for terrorists and insurgents”.
According to The Washington Post, Pakistani ambassador Haqqani admitted the US administration had warned his government that “if the United States suffers an attack that is traced back to Pakistan, Washington will have to take steps to retaliate”. Haqqani added: “We want to make sure that it doesn't come to that”.
The attack on the Pakistan border post came just two days after the Rand Corporation, a Washington think-tank, issued a report echoing Admiral Mullen's demands. The document, titled “Counter-insurgency in Afghanistan,” stated that if Taliban bases in Pakistan were not removed, the forces supporting the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai “will face crippling long-term consequences in their effort to stabilise and rebuild Afghanistan”.
The US is facing a deepening crisis in Afghanistan. Its puppet regime of Hamid Karzai in Kabul is confronting a surge of resistance, not only from Taliban forces but also ordinary people who oppose the US-led occupation. The Bush administration is desperate because its policy has suffered a debacle in Iraq as well as in Afghanistan.
The US sees tightening its grip over Afghanistan and Pakistan as essential to controlling the oil and gas reserves in the Middle East and Central Asia.
The Bush administration has sought to keep him in power with the support of traditional bourgeois party, the PPP, but these efforts are crumbling, creating intense friction between Washington and the PPP-led government.
Last year's election in Pakistan displayed the mass opposition not only to Musharraf's autocratic rule but also the continuing US domination over Pakistani affairs.
Wednesday's air strike sent an obvious message that the US will not allow Pakistan to threaten its interests. This latest US strike in the Mohmand tribal region, however, will only intensify the mass opposition in Pakistan toward Musharraf and the US government.
The author is a columnist and researcher.

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