Pakistan protested to the U.S. ambassador Thursday over a deep cross-border missile strike, and a militant group threatened to target foreigners unless the attacks stop.
Pakistani intelligence officials say the U.S. has staged some 20 missile strikes on Pakistani territory since August, almost all of them aimed at the lawless tribal region along the Afghan border. But for the first time Wednesday, the missiles targeted militants beyond the tribal areas, deeper inside Pakistan. Six suspected insurgents were killed.
By CHRIS BRUMMITT, Associated Press Writer
The strikes have strained relations between the allies, who are fighting al-Qaida and Taliban militants blamed for attacks on U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan as well as within Pakistan. Al-Qaida leaders Osama bin-Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahri are believed to be hiding along the border.
Pakistan, which called the attack a “great provocation,” said the U.S. strikes undermine public support for fighting insurgents.
The Foreign Ministry summoned U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson to protest the strike, the second time she has been called in since August.
“It was underscored to the U.S. ambassador that such attacks were a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty,” a ministry statement said. The foreign secretary stressed the attacks must be stopped, it added.
The U.S. rarely confirms or denies involvement in strikes inside Pakistan, which are believed to be carried out mainly by unmanned CIA drones flown from Afghanistan.
Also Thursday, militant leader Hafiz Gul Bahadur warned his men would launch suicide attacks on foreigners and government targets around the country unless the raids stop.
“The Pakistani government is clearly involved in these attacks by American spy planes so we will target government interests as well as foreigners,” Bahadur’s spokesman, Ahmedullah Ahmedi, told The Associated Press by telephone from an undisclosed location.
He claimed the group — which is based in the Waziristan tribal area — had “well-trained volunteers.” An Interior Ministry spokesman said the government was not aware of the threat and declined comment.
Just days ago, NATO and U.S. officers on the Afghan side of the border reported improving cooperation with their Pakistani counterparts in fighting insurgents hiding on, or very near, the poorly demarcated border.
And Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani sought to placate Pakistani lawmakers by telling them he expected the raids to stop when President-elect Barack Obama takes office.
“I think these things are happening because of this transition period,” he said. “I am sure when the government of Sen. Obama is formed, attacks like these will be controlled.”
Obama has not directly commented on the raids. But his comments on Pakistan before the election were more hawkish than his Republican rival, suggesting Gilani‘s hopes may be misplaced.
Gilani also denied speculation that the Pakistan government — which relies heavily on U.S. aid — may have agreed to the missile strikes privately while publicly condemning them.