South Asia

Pakistan protests after Nato helicopters wound troops

Nato helicopter in Afghanistan
Image caption Western military sources said the Nato helicopters only fired in retaliation

The Pakistan army has protested after two of its soldiers were injured in a clash with Nato helicopters in the Pakistani region of North Waziristan.

An army spokesman said Nato "violated Pakistan airspace" and demanded a meeting with Nato officials.

In a statement Nato said its helicopters responded after being fired up on. It says the aircraft were in Afghan airspace at the time.

But local witnesses say the aircraft fired first.

But they also supported Nato's claim that the helicopters which targeted the post on Tuesday were flying in Afghanistan.

A Pakistani army spokesman insisted that the aircraft intruded into Pakistani territory when the exchange took place.

The BBC's Syed Shoaib Hasan in Pakistan says that the latest incident underlines the tensions in what is an increasingly unstable alliance between Pakistan and the West.

The clash in North Waziristan's Datakhel area comes two weeks after al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden was killed by US commandos in the Pakistani town of Abbottabad - prompting Pakistani condemnation.

'Retaliatory gunshots'

Two helicopters had been sent to support a coalition base which was under intermittent fire in the eastern Afghan province of Khost, an unnamed Western military official told the BBC.

The helicopters came under fire twice from across the border, and only returned fire when they were attacked a second time, the official said.

At least seven people, including the commander of an al-Qaeda splinter group, were killed in a strike by US drones in the same region on Monday.

Pakistan's Express 24/7 television channel quoted officials saying that the helicopters were about to enter Pakistani territory when gunshots were fired. They moved back and fired retaliatory gunshots which dislodged rubble on nearby mountains, injuring the Pakistani soldiers, the channel said.

A Pakistan army statement said: "Two Nato helicopters violated Pakistan air space today at Admi Kot Post North Waziristan Agency in the early hours of the morning.

"The troops at the post fired upon the helicopters and, as a result of [the] exchange of fire, two of our soldiers received injuries.

"Pakistan army has lodged strong protest and demanded a flag meeting."

A spokeswoman for the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) said: "Isaf is aware of the incident and is assessing it to determine what happened. This effort will be pursued in a co-operative manner using the border co-ordination centre partnership."

The injured soldiers were rushed to military hospitals - at least one is said to be in a serious condition.

Last September, Nato aircraft crossed the border from Afghanistan in an attack which Pakistan says killed three soldiers. Subsequently Pakistan temporarily blocked a key Nato supply route from Pakistan into Afghanistan.

Nato says that only joint operations with Pakistan can help control the insurgents in Afghanistan.

Pakistani officials say they are doing their best to prevent militant recruits from gaining access to the training camps in the tribal regions. But Nato officials say nothing short of a major military operation in North Waziristan can stop this trend.

US drones frequently target the tribal areas along the Afghan border, which are considered to be a haven for al-Qaeda and Taliban militants who launch attacks in Afghanistan.

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