Pakistan Protests NATO Airstrikes In Its Air Space

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The U.S. military has announced that it has made two rare incursions into Pakistan, where helicopter gunships killed scores of suspected Taliban militants. Also along the Pakistani border, north of the Afghan city of Jalalabad, gunmen have kidnapped a British woman and three of her Afghan colleagues, who are working for a subcontractor of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

We're following several stories in Afghanistan today. In a moment, we'll hear about two U.S. military attacks. Helicopter gunships killed dozens of suspected Taliban militants across the border in Pakistan.

But we start in northern Afghanistan, where gunmen have kidnapped a British woman and three Afghan companions. They were working for a subcontractor of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

NPR's Quil Lawrence reports from Kabul.

QUIL LAWRENCE: Foreign charity organizations have proscribed their movements since last month when a team of well-known medical aid workers, many of them with decades of experience in Afghanistan were murdered in remote Badakshan Province. That makes the news of yesterday's kidnapping more surprising.

A small group, including a British woman and three Afghan men, drove up the road from the eastern city of Jalalabad into Kunar Province, along the Pakistani border.

Chief KHALILULLAH ZIYAEE (Kunar Province): (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: They entered Kunar Province without notifying the police, says Khalilullah Ziyaee, the provincial police chief. He says the group traveled in two Toyota Corollas and that gunmen abducted them on the road south of the provincial capital.

Both the Taliban and an insurgent group led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar are active in the area. Two of the group worked for Development Alternatives Inc., which does projects for the U.S. Agency for International Development. Steven O'Connor is a DAI spokesman.

Mr. STEVEN O'CONNOR (Spokesman, U.S. Agency for International Development): We are extremely concerned about the welfare of these people and doing everything we can to get them home safely.

LAWRENCE: O'Connor said the company has revised its security procedures since July, when a Taliban suicide attack hit a DAI compound in the northern province of Kunduz, killing four. The company, which has about 2,000 staff in Afghanistan, is now on lockdown.

Another major story in Afghanistan today is the after-effects of two incidents over the weekend, where U.S. attack helicopters killed more than 30 suspected Taliban insurgents inside Pakistan. Navy captain Gary Kirshner, a spokesman for NATO forces in Afghanistan, says that when fired upon, international forces have a right to shoot back.

Captain GARY KIRSHNER (Spokesman, NATO): And we also have the right, you know, to pursue them to a certain point. And that's what we did.

LAWRENCE: Kirshner says whenever there's firing across the border, NATO officials immediately inform both the Afghan and the Pakistani governments. Afghan and American officials have long complained that insurgents use Pakistan as a safe haven, slipping into Afghanistan to attack and then escaping back.

But in the past, any hint of Americans crossing the border has been enough to cause anti-American protests inside Pakistan. Kirshner says it's a delicate issue.

Captain KIRSHNER: We work very closely with both countries to communicate. When something happens we can point to the rules of engagement, that we followed these rules of engagement and that we did the right thing for both countries.

LAWRENCE: But news of the incident sparked an angry protest from the Pakistani government. Islamabad denied there is any agreement with U.S. forces in Afghanistan allowing self-defense or hot pursuit.

Shortly afterwards, U.S. officials in Kabul put out another statement clarifying that U.S. troops at no time crossed into Pakistani territory when attacking the insurgent base. In fact, they said, the helicopters never even entered Pakistani airspace, only the missiles ever crossed the border.

Quil Lawrence, NPR News, Kabul.

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