Pakistan Accuses U.S. Of Deadly Attack On Its Soil

Pakistan says U.S.-led forces crossed into its territory and launched an attack that killed at least 15 people. The target of the attack was a village in South Waziristan, which is a tribal area used as a base by the Taliban and al-Qaida.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Im Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And Im Melissa Block. The Pakistani government is condemning an attack in a village inside its territory. Pakistan says many civilians were killed by troops from the U.S.-led coalition crossing the border from Afghanistan. The U.S. military is refusing to confirm or even discuss what happened.

NPRs Philip Reeves reports from the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.

PHILIP REEVES: The assault was before dawn when the stark and towering mountains along the frontiers of Afghanistan and Pakistan were cloaked in darkness. The target was a village in South Waziristan, a tribal area used as a base by the Taliban and al-Qaida.

Accounts of exactly what happened differ. One eyewitness reportedly said he heard helicopters then shooting. And then, outside a couple of houses, he saw 15 bodies shot through the head. The governor of Pakistans northwest frontier province says 20 people died including women and children.

He says commanders from international forces based in Afghanistan took part and also three helicopters. But nothings confirmed. Nothings clear. U.S. officials are keeping quiet. We do know, though, that Pakistans government is furious. Its issued an unusually strongly worded statement.

This talks of a helicopter-borne ground attack. Thereve been a number of deadly U.S. missile attacks from the air inside Pakistan. They usually cause outrage among Pakistanis, but not as much outrage as American boots on the ground.

The Pakistani governments statement describes the attack as a gross violation of Pakistans territory, an unacceptable and grave provocation that undermines cooperation in the fight against terrorism. The Pakistani government doesnt specifically name the U.S. military. Yet, most Pakistanis will have no doubt that Americans did it. On that, Pakistans Dawn TV news channel was clear.

(Soundbite of news program, Dawn TV)

Unidentified Woman: Now, as many as 20 Pakistani civilians have been killed in a raid by U.S. forces in a village in South Waziristan. But this time, the troops are reported to have been on the ground.

REEVES: Americas relations with Pakistan had been going through a good patch. Top military commanders from both sides met recently on a U.S. battleship to discuss the war in Islamist insurgents. The Americans seemed pleased by the Pakistani armys latest efforts to flush militants out of another tribal area, Bajaur and also from Pakistans Swat Valley. Thereve been some fierce battles in both places.

But the Pakistani authorities have recently declared a ceasefire in Bajaur to mark the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which has just begun. Some analysts here believe that ceasefire may have upset the U.S. They say thats why the assault in the village took place.

(Soundbite of chatting)

REEVES: There are some who welcome the prospect of that ceasefire. More than 200,000 people, many of them children, were displaced by the fighting in Bajaur. Today, some of them were to be found at a relief camp near the city of Peshawar, eagerly awaiting the chance to get back home. They included 8-year-old Tursom(ph).

TURSOM: (Through translator) This is the holy month of Ramadan. We want to go back to our areas even today. Today, we had a call from that area telling us that there was bombardment even today. So, we people are confused whether to go back or to stay here.

REEVES: Tursom and his friends describe the horror of being caught between the Taliban and the Pakistani army bombarding their villages from the air and the ground. Som(ph) says many people will have little to go home to.

TURSOM: (Through translator) Countless houses are being destroyed there. We left in the darkness. We dont know exactly the number of houses that have been destroyed. But some people were killed there. Some houses were destroyed. And some cattle were killed as well because of the bombardment there.

REEVES: Conflict with militants in Bajaur is just one of Pakistans many problems. The governments weak and often seems overwhelmed. Today, the Pakistani Rupee hit a record low. The prime ministers car was shot at although he wasnt in it.

On Saturday, the parliament and provincial assemblies will elect a new president to replace Pervez Musharraf. This powerful post is expected to go to Benazir Bhuttos widower, Asif Ali Zardari. He has a lot of work to do.

Philip Reeves, NPR News, Islamabad.

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