ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Pakistani troops opened fire Monday on U.S. forces who were trying to enter the country’s lawless tribal area, local officials said, marking a dangerous further deterioration in relations between the allies in the war on terrorism.
Both armies – and the Pentagon – denied that the reported incident had occurred, but local security officials and tribesmen in South Waziristan told McClatchy Newspapers that two American helicopters had entered Pakistani airspace in the early hours and were forced to retreat when they came under fire.
Earlier this month, U.S. choppers flew in commandos who assaulted a compound that housed suspected militants, in the first documented American ground raid into the tribal territory, and it’s possible that the latest reported operation followed the same pattern. Up to 20 people, including civilians, died in the earlier attack, enraging the Pakistani army and public.
One security official in South Waziristan, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity as he wasn’t authorized to talk to the press, said: “American helicopters came and there was a space (border) violation. Pakistani scouts (paramilitary troops) fired artillery as a warning and they left. The helicopters did not land.”
Other reports said that troops had directed gunfire at the helicopters, which were just inside Pakistani territory. The Reuters news agency quoted an official saying that the fire came from Pakistani soldiers based at a border checkpoint known as BP-27.
The Pakistani army acknowledged that a skirmish may have taken place but maintained that its soldiers weren’t involved.
“The villagers had some firing incident, according to the reports I’ve received,” said Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, the Pakistani army spokesman. “But who fired at who, I cannot confirm.”
The American military said there hadn’t been any operation.
“We did not have any forces or helicopters on or near the border,” said Mark Swart, a spokesman for the American military at Bagram air base in Afghanistan. “I don’t know where the reports are coming from.”
The tribal area, which runs along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, serves as a haven for Taliban and al-Qaida militants who are fighting U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.