Pakistan has moved to block a vital supply route for NATO forces fighting in Afghanistan after blaming coalition forces for the death of three Pakistani soldiers in an air strike on a border village early on Thursday.
REUTERS - Pakistani authorities blocked a vital supply route for NATO troops fighting in Afghanistan on Thursday, angered by a cross-border NATO airstrike that killed three Pakistani soldiers, officials said.
Trucks and fuel tankers for foreign forces in Afghanistan were stopped at Torkham border post in Khyber tribal region near the city of Peshawar, hours after the raid, the fourth reported by Pakistani authorities in recent days.
"Yes, the NATO supplies have been stopped. It has been done locally," a senior security official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
A spokeswoman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Kabul, however, said none of its helicopters had crossed into Pakistani airspace and the incident was under investigation.
Pakistan is a crucial ally for the United States in its efforts to stabilise Afghanistan but analysts say the move to disrupt the supply route underlines the tensions in the relationship.
The bulk of military supplies for NATO troops in Afghanistan moves through Pakistan.
Early on Thursday, two NATO helicopters from Afghanistan attacked a border village in Pakistan's Kurram region, the Pakistani security official said.
"The helicopters shelled the area for about 25 minutes. Three of our soldiers manning a border post were killed and three wounded," he said.
But ISAF spokeswoman Major Sunset Belinsky said the helicopters targeted militants in Afghanistan's eastern Paktia province, opposite Kurram, and they did not cross into Pakistan.
Pakistan military officials had informed ISAF that their border forces had been struck in the attack, she said in a statement.
"ISAF is working with Pakistan to ascertain if the two events are linked. The matter remains under investigation," she said.
The border row comes as C.I.A chief Leon Panetta began a previously scheduled visit to Pakistan for talks with top military and political figures.
Panetta met the head of the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Lieutenant-General Ahmed Shuja Pasha and Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, officials said. He is expected to meet Pakistan army chief General Ashfaq Kayani later in the day.
The United States has stepped up missile strikes by unmanned drone planes in Pakistan's northwest, carrying out 20 in September alone, the highest for a month since it began such attacks in 2008.
The rugged border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan is seen by Washington as a critical battleground in its fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban.
Analysts say that while strikes by U.S. drones are carried out with the tacit approval of Pakistan, any border incursions by foreign troops is a red line that the Pakistani military has set.
It has said it would consider "response options" if NATO forces continued to violate its sovereignty.
In 2008, Pakistani troops had fired on US military helicopters and forced them to return to Afghanistan after Pakistan army chief General Ashfaque Kayani said Pakistan would not allow foreign troops on its soil.
The latest series of raids began last Friday when two NATO Apache helicopters killed 30 insurgents on Pakistani soil after a rare manned pursuit across the border from eastern Afghanistan. It followed an attack by militants on a remote Afghan security outpost in Khost province, NATO said.
On Saturday, two Kiowa helicopters returned to the area and killed another four. Monday saw another possible border violation, with six militants killed in Kurram, a Reuters reporter in the area said. But an ISAF spokesman said it was "near the border," rather than in Pakistan.
Date created : 2010-09-30