ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Pakistan’s army said Tuesday that its forces have orders to open fire if U.S. troops launch another raid across the Afghan border, raising the stakes in a dispute over how to tackle militant havens in Pakistan’s unruly border zone.
Adm. Mike Mullen, the U.S. chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, arrived in Pakistan late Tuesday amid the increased tensions. Mullen planned to meet with top civilian and military leaders to discuss a range of issues, including ways to improve coordination and cooperation along the Pakistan-Afghan border.
Pakistan’s government has faced rising popular anger over a Sept. 3 ground attack by U.S. commandos into South Waziristan, a base for Taliban militants killing ever more U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Pakistan says about 15 people were killed, all of them civilians.
The new firing orders were disclosed by Pakistani army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas in an interview Tuesday.
Abbas said Pakistani field commanders have been tolerant about international forces crossing a short way into Pakistan because of the ill-defined and contested nature of the mountainous frontier.
“But after the (Sept. 3) incident, the orders are clear,” Abbas said. “In case it happens again in this form, that there is a very significant detection, which is very definite, no ambiguity, across the border, on ground or in the air: open fire.”
The statement was the strongest since Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Pakistan’s army chief, raised eyebrows last week by vowing to defend Pakistani territory “at all cost.” Abbas would not say whether the orders were discussed in advance with U.S. officials.
Rep. Gary Ackerman, Democratic chair of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on South Asia, and other lawmakers expressed concern about Abbas’ comments at a hearing Tuesday to examine a Bush administration request to fund an upgrade of Pakistan’s aging fleet of F-16 fighter planes.
Responding to the concerns, Donald Camp, deputy assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs, said: “I cannot envision a situation where we would find ourselves in a shooting situation with Pakistan.”
“We are partners with Pakistan. We have been close friends for years,” he said.
President Asif Ali Zardari, the newly elected successor to U.S. ally Pervez Musharraf, declined to comment on the order to use lethal force on American troops, telling reporters in London: “I don’t think there will be any more” cross-border operations by the U.S.
U.S. military commanders complain Islamabad has been doing too little to prevent the Taliban and other militant groups from recruiting, training and resupplying in Pakistan’s lawless tribal belt.
Pakistan acknowledges the presence of al-Qaida fugitives and its difficulties in preventing militants from seeping into Afghanistan. However, it insists it is doing what it can and paying a heavy price, pointing to its deployment of more then 100,000 troops in the increasingly restive northwest and a wave of suicide bombings across the country.
American officials have confirmed U.S. forces carried out the Sept. 3 raid near the town of Angoor Ada in South Waziristan but have given few details of what happened.
Abbas said that Pakistan’s military had asked for an explanation but received only a half-page of “very vague” information that failed to identify the intended target.