Pakistani troops get OK to fire on NATO if attacked

Supporters of a religious party condemn NATO airstrikes on Pakistani troops, in Karachi, Pakistan, on Friday. (Associated Press)
Supporters of a religious party condemn NATO airstrikes on Pakistani troops, in Karachi, Pakistan, on Friday. (Associated Press)

ISLAMABAD – Pakistan’s top military commander has issued orders to the country’s troops to return fire should they come under attack again from U.S.-led coalition forces, a move that’s likely to increase tensions after an American-led air raid on two border outposts last week killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.

Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Pakistan’s army chief, issued the order in a letter to his troops that set out the rules of engagement against any “aggressor.”

The new orders came as Pakistan and U.S. officials continued to trade conflicting accounts of what happened in the incident, which American officials say came after a joint U.S.-Afghan unit took fire from the Pakistani side of the border but which Pakistani officials say was unprovoked. No American or Afghan casualties were reported in the incident.

On Friday, published reports quoted unnamed U.S. military officers as saying they had called in the airstrike on the border posts only after asking for and receiving permission for it from Pakistan.

A senior Pakistani military official denied those accounts, saying the U.S. went ahead “without getting clearance from the Pakistani side.” He acknowledged that the U.S. had contacted Pakistan before the attack, but he said the coordinates the U.S. gave for the proposed strike were incorrect.

“It was an unprovoked and indiscriminate attack by U.S. helicopters and fighter jets,” he said.

Kayani’s order, distributed Thursday, could lead to a skirmish between Pakistani and coalition forces, supposedly allies, if there’s another incident of “friendly fire” at the border. It also turns the deployment of more than 100,000 Pakistani troops along the country’s western border from a force meant to stop the Taliban to one charged with protecting the border.

Kayani is under immense pressure due to anger within his ranks over the two-hour bombardment of the mountaintop outposts. The Pakistani air force didn’t respond to the attack.

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