U.S. did not warn of impending missile strike, Pakistan says

Posted: September 18, 2008 in General
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U.S. failed to warn Pakistanis before strike

Pakistan said Thursday that it had not been warned about a missile strike, thought to have been carried out by the United States, that came hours after a top U.S. official assured Pakistani leaders that the United States respected Pakistani sovereignty.

The missile strike, which reportedly hit the northwest Pakistani region of South Waziristan on Wednesday, is likely to fuel anger over an increase in cross-border operations by U.S. forces.

The operations, which include a ground assault on Sept. 3, have strained the seven-year anti-terror alliance between the two countries.

While denying having received prior knowledge of the strike Wednesday, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi indicated that the civilian leadership of Pakistan wanted to defuse tensions via diplomatic means.

The strike came the same day the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, was in Pakistan to meet with the prime minister, the army chief and other officials.

The U.S. Embassy said Mullen had “reiterated the U.S. commitment to respect Pakistan’s sovereignty and to develop further U.S.-Pakistani cooperation and coordination on these critical issues that challenge the security and well-being of the people of both countries.”

Qureshi, who was among those who met with Mullen, said that Pakistani officials “were not informed” of the strike that took place that same day. Asked about Mullen’s statement, Qureshi said, “it’s a clear, clear commitment to Pakistan to respect Pakistan’s sovereignty.”

Qureshi said he suspected that any split between professed goals and practice on the ground, should one exist, would have been the result of a lack of communication. “If, having said that, there was an attack later in the night, that means there is some sort of an institutional disconnect on their side, and if so, they will have to sort it out,” he said.

Two intelligence officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media, said the missile strike had targeted a compound used by Taliban militants and Hezb-i-Islami, another group involved in escalating attacks in Afghanistan.

One of the officials said that a drone aircraft of the type used by the CIA and by U.S. forces in Afghanistan was heard in the area, and both said they had been told by informants that six people had died in the attack and that three others were wounded.

Gonzalo Gallegos, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department, declined to comment Thursday, as is customary in the case of allegations of U.S. missile strikes in the area.

Washington has long been concerned about the use by the Taliban and Al Qaeda of Pakistan’s tribal regions as bases from which to plan attacks on U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. A spate of alleged missile strikes, as well as the ground assault, signal U.S. impatience with Pakistani efforts to clear the area of militants.

Pakistan insists that it is doing all it can and that unilateral attacks will simply deepen tribal sympathy for militants.

This month, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, head of the Pakistani Army, issued a strong public rebuke of the United States, saying Pakistan’s territorial integrity would “be defended at all cost” and denying that there was any agreement for U.S. forces to operate there.

The army also has said that Pakistani troops have orders to fire on intruding forces after the Sept. 3 attack.

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