Pakistan’s leaders okay with unmanned airstrikes — but not manned ones

On Sept. 28, reports emerged that US military helicopters may have pursued a group of Haqqani Network fighters in Afghanistan across the border into Pakistan to fire on the fleeing militants, killing five and wounding nine others. ISAF later denied its troops crossed the border, but did carry out two such “hot pursuit” actions into Pakistani airspace the previous two days. On Saturday, US helicopters pursued a large group of Haqqani Network fighters into North Waziristan after they attacked Combat Outpost Narizah, an Afghan base in Khost Province just eight miles from the Pakistani border. More than 30 Haqqani Network fighters were reported killed in the engagement. The second engagement occurred later that day when Taliban fighters in Pakistan fired on US helicopters near the border. The US aircraft returned fire, killing four militants.

While Pakistan’s government has remained largely silent about the record 21 drone strikes inside Pakistan this month, the handful of manned US airstrikes in recent days has provoked a strong – and very public – backlash from Pakistani officials.

After media reports about the Sept. 28 strike surfaced, Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry registered a formal protest with NATO over the incursion. Despite a memo uncovered in 2007 which showed that US forces could penetrate up to 10km (6.2mi) into Pakistani territory while engaged with Taliban or Al Qaeda fighters, the Pakistanis vehemently denied that any such agreement exists. Claiming that the UN mandate for NATO forces “terminates at the Afghanistan border,” Pakistani officials insisted that there were “no agreed rules of hot pursuit…such violations are unacceptable,” and if the incursions did not cease Pakistan would be forced to consider “response options.”

On Tuesday, Pakistani security officials went a step further, threatening to stop protecting NATO supply lines into Afghanistan if ISAF aircraft execute one more cross-border attack. Although most analysts agree that the chances of Pakistan carrying out such a threat are highly unlikely, the rhetorical threats highlight just how sensitive Pakistan’s leaders are to domestic accusations that they are failing to protect the country’s sovereignty.

Regardless of the fact that cross-border hot pursuit actions have been a frequent occurrence since at least 2008, Mehmood Shah, a former top security official in Pakistan’s tribal areas, told The Guardian that manned airstrikes inside Pakistan were a “watershed event” that crossed a red line:

“They [NATO] must be warned: the next time you do this, it can lead to war. Our units should be deployed to fire upon them. This border has sanctity. NATO must realise they have a mandate to operate in Afghanistan, not in Pakistan.”

According to the AP, the Pakistani officials may be reacting not so much to the airstrikes themselves (since such cross-border actions are not uncommon), but rather to their public’s perception of them in the media:

Vice Admiral Michael LeFever, the senior U.S. military representative in Pakistan, said the helicopters had not crossed into Pakistani territory, but had fired into it. He said such cross-border incidents were quite common and were usually coordinated with Pakistani military officers at the border.

LeFever suggested that foreign forces in the first incident had coordinated with their Pakistani counterparts but that senior Pakistani military officials got wind of them via media reports before their own officers were able to report them.

The AP also quoted former Pakistani army general and security analyst Talat Masood, who suggested that the Pakistani outrage over the ISAF strikes may be intended to send a message to India – “a signal that it would not accept Indian forces one day using the same justification to launch cross-border attacks on militants sheltering on its eastern flank.”

10 Comments

  • Mike says:

    If the Pakistanis want to avoid a US ground presence in their territory, it would behoove them to start acting to prevent the groups operating from their soil from launching attacks in Europe and/or the US. I think that much has been made clear, the next major attack will result in an expansion of the ground war into the tribal regions, at the very least by special forces troops, I would hope in addition to round-the-clock air strikes. So maybe Pakistan should watch its mouth, as this double-game may be closing in fast on them.

  • ramgun says:

    This hypocrisy has become a joke now… For one, no one is asking Pakistan for their opinion or permission to conduct these strikes. Second, their pretensions of not knowing about it, were anyway unbelievable to start with, and are looking farcical now

  • Mr T says:

    Its ok for me but not for thee but I’m just lying to my people you see.

  • ArneFufkin says:

    Duplicitous doesn’t begin to describe the Paks.

  • wallbangr says:

    Hahahaha. I think Mr. Shah has been caught up in a bit of misguided nationalistic fervor. Ah yes, the sacrosanct Pakistan border. Do you suppose he means the one his stellar government allows enemies of his state and ours to cross at will? Or is this Pak double speak for the truly sacred J&M? Afterall, as the other Mr. Shah suggests, the old India Complex seems to explain some of the dissonance between the logic of the situation and the jibberish being excreted from the likes of this “former security official in [FATA].” Of course, by this logic, the “good” taliban aren’t enemies of the Pak state at all — they are the rear garrison for the long awaited final battle with India — you know, the one that the Paks finally win.

  • malangjan says:

    Bravo Mr.Shah. Biting the hand that is feeding you. It will be good in sense that the hypocracy & doulbe games will end. But I doubt. I know Mr. Shah,he was planted by ISI & Pak Militray establishment to sponser & train sucide bombers & taxing the smuggling & narcotics routes. To call him security experet, I am not sure but sure he has made multi million for taxing smugglers & warlords.

  • Charu says:

    As predicted the Pakistanis have blocked the main supply route into Afghanistan. And the tinpot Generals are already angling for another coup, or at least a change in the civilian leadership. The excuse this time is the poor efforts at providing aid to the flood victims by the government. However, in every other civilized country the military is an arm of the government, and is generally deployed at times of great disaster to provide aid. Only is Pakistan is the military a state-within-a-state, where the Generals can fault just the civilians for what should be a collective failure. Things are only going to get worse as this failed banana republic defaults and goes bankrupt; which it soon will if it continues to block the MSR much longer. Like the Palestinians, you can count on the Pakistanis to make the wrong choice each and every time.

  • MILNEWS.ca says:

    Mike: Re: “If the Pakistanis want to avoid a US ground presence in their territory, it would behoove them to start acting to prevent the groups operating from their soil from launching attacks in Europe and/or the US.” Hell, they can’t even seem to stop attacks against NATO convoys in Pakistan (check here and here)!
    Oh, and now, NATO-bound convoys get to back up and give the PAK Taliban a more “target rich environment” – thanks, Pakistan!

  • Infidel4LIFE says:

    This business of a failed, extremist state with nukes is a recipe for disaster. They created this monster, and are playing us for fools. How long until the NEXT 9/11? Maybe not in US, probably Europe. Our enemy lives in Pakistan. Hit them wherever they are, to hell with PAK.

  • TJF says:

    Translation: You only paid us enough to allow you to conduct unmanned drone attacks. Helicopter strikes will cost extra.

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