Unprovoked attack, says an angry Islamabad

Pakistan-U.S. relations were back on a collision course after 24 Pakistan Army soldiers were killed and 13 injured in a dead-of-the-night attack by North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) helicopters on border posts in the Mohmand tribal agency.

Later on Saturday, Pakistan asked the U.S. to vacate the Shamsi Airbase within 15 days and closed all NATO supply lines running through the country as an immediate response to the attack. It also decided to revisit all cooperation arrangements with the coalition forces in Afghanistan.

Trucks ferrying supplies and oil to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan were stopped on Saturday morning itself, protests were registered with NATO and the U.S. and an emergency meeting of the Defence Committee of the Cabinet was called to formulate a response to the “unprovoked” attack that “constituted a grave infringement of Pakistan's sovereignty.”

On the instructions of Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani, Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir “called in” U.S. Ambassador Cameron Munter to lodge a strong protest. According to the Foreign Office, Mr. Munter was informed that the attack had deeply incensed the people of Pakistan. Describing the attack as violative of international law, he warned that this serious transgression of the oft-conveyed red lines could have serious repercussions on Pakistan-U.S./NATO/ISAF cooperation.

Protest lodged

A strong protest has also been lodged in Washington and the NATO headquarters in Brussels.

Ironically, on Friday, ISAF Commander John Allen met Chief of the Army Staff Ashfaq Parvez Kayani to discuss matters concerning coordination, communication and procedures between the Pakistan Army, the ISAF and the Afghan Army with a view to enhancing border control.

Condemning the attack, Gen. Kayani said in a statement that Pakistani troops responded to the “aggression” with available weapons and directed that necessary steps be undertaken for an effective response to this “irresponsible” act. The Army, however, did not elaborate what these steps were.

U.S., NATO regret

While the ISAF and the U.S. expressed regrets for the loss of life and said the matter would be “thoroughly investigated,” reports from Kabul suggested that the helicopters were called in to support troops during an incident near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

PTI reports from London:

NATO said on Saturday it was “highly likely” that its aircraft were responsible for the raid.

Conveying his condolences, NATO spokesman Birgadier-General Carsten Jacobson told the BBC that the coalition force deployed in Afghanistan was investigating the incident.

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