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NATO raid kills 28 soldiers in Pak
Afzal Khan in Islamabad

At least 28 Pakistani soldiers were killed on Saturday when NATO helicopters and combat jets fired on two border posts in the country’s northwest, prompting army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani to direct his troops to prepare for “an effective response” even as authorities cut off all supplies for US forces in Afghanistan.

The attack, the worst single incident of its kind in one decade, looked set to plunge US-Pak relations, already deeply frayed, further into crisis.

A major and a captain of the Pakistan Army were among those killed when NATO aircraft fired at the borders posts in Baizai area of Mohmand tribal region at 2 am.

Fifteen more personnel were wounded and the death toll could rise as some of the injured were in a serious condition, several officials said.

A military statement said the NATO aircraft “carried out unprovoked firing” on the border posts. Pakistani troops “effectively responded immediately in self-defence to NATO/ISAF’s aggression with all available weapons”.

General Kayani strongly condemned “NATO/ISAF’s blatant and unacceptable act”. While lauding the effective response by Pakistani soldiers, he issued orders for taking all necessary steps for “an effective response to this irresponsible act”.

Within hours of the attack, Pakistani authorities sealed off the country’s border stopping all container trucks and tankers carrying supplies for US and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir called in US Ambassador Cameron Munter to lodge a “strong protest on the unprovoked NATO/ISAF attack”, the Foreign Office said in a statement.

Bashir told the US envoy that the attack had “deeply incensed the government and the people of Pakistan”. Top national leaders in the country denounced the deadly assault as deliberate violation of Pakistan sovereignty. A Pakistani military spokesman confirmed the pre-dawn cross-border attack on a military check post killing and wounding troops.

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, opposition leader Nawaz Sharif, PTI chief Imran Khan and several others condemned the attack. President Asif Ali Zardari, Army chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar and the foreign secretary held an urgent meeting at the Presidency to discuss the implications of the attack. The Prime Minister also cut short his three-day visit to Multan and returned to the capital.

The attack comes at a time when US-Pak relations have plunged to a new low since early this year over the Raymond Davis episode and the unilateral raid by US that killed Al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad on May 2.

US Ambassador Munter expressed regret at the incident and offered assistance in probing it.

In a statement issued by the US Embassy, Munter said: “I regret the loss of life of any Pakistani servicemen, and pledge that the United States will work closely with Pakistan to investigate this incident”.

Security forces blocked all entry points to Mohmand Agency after the incident and began checking all vehicles.

Several crossings on the Afghanistan frontier, including Landikotal and Takhtbai, were closed and over 150 NATO supply vehicles were turned back to Peshawar. The Pakistan Embassy in the US lodged a verbal protest over the attack.

(With inputs from PTI)

Pak asks US to vacate airbase

Pakistan on Saturday asked the US to vacate an airbase that has reportedly been used by American drones and closed NATO supply routes in response to a cross-border air strike by the coalition aircraft. The Pakistan government framed its response to the NATO air strike during an emergency meeting of the Defence Committee of the Cabinet. The cabinet committee decided to "close with immediate effect the NATO supply lines" and asked the "US to vacate the Shamsi airbase within 15 days", said a statement issued by the PM's House. — PTI





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