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US apologises for attack on Pakistani soldiers

October 07, 2010 00:05 IST

In a bid to defuse tensions, the US apologised to Pakistan on Wednesday, for a recent helicopter attack that killed Pakistani soldiers near the Afghan border.

"We extend our deepest apology to Pakistan and the families of the Frontier Scouts who were killed and injured. Pakistan's brave security forces are our allies in a war that threatens both Pakistan and the US," Ambassador Anne Patterson said in a statement in Islamabad. Pakistan closed the main route for transporting supplies to US and allied forces in Afghanistan after NATO helicopters shelled a border outpost in Kurram tribal region on September 30. Pakistani military officials had said that three soldiers were killed in the incident though Patterson's statement put the death toll at two.

The statement "extended an apology to Pakistan on behalf of the American people for the terrible accident on September 30 which resulted in the deaths of two Pakistani Frontier Scouts (personnel) and the injury of four others". Patterson said a joint investigation of the incident by the US, NATO and Pakistani officials had established that "US helicopters had mistaken the Pakistani Frontier Scouts for insurgents they had been pursuing".

The US will coordinate with the Pakistan government to "prevent such tragic accidents from taking place in the future". The death of the Pakistani

soldiers had become a major source of tension between the Pakistani and US military and disrupted the supply of logistics and fuel to NATO forces in Afghanistan via the Torkham border route, which was closed by Islamabad a week ago. NATO helicopters had carried out four air strikes on Pakistani territory within a week.

On September 26 and 27, the helicopters shelled Pakistani areas and officials claimed over 50 militants were killed in the strikes. A NATO spokesman initially justified the rare air strikes in Pakistani territory as being based on "the right of self-defence". Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had said in parliament that Pakistan would consider "other options" if such violations of Pakistans sovereignty did not end.

President Asif Ali Zardari and Gilani also conveyed their concern over increasing drone attacks and violation of the countrys airspace by NATO aircraft in meetings with CIA chief Leon Panetta during his recent visit to Islamabad. The US has significantly stepped up drone strikes in the Waziristan tribal region since early last month. The unmanned spy planes have struck the region over two dozen times, killing more than 100 people. The increase in drone strikes coincided with reports about Western intelligence agencies uncovering a plot hatched by foreign militants based in the tribal belt to target major European cities.

Rezaul H Laskar in Islamabad
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