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Deadly NATO air strikes in Pakistan ‘lasted over an hour’

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2011-11-29

The NATO air strikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers lasted over an hour and continued even after Pakistani commanders had asked coalition forces to stop, Pakistan army spokesperson Athar Abbas told FRANCE 24 in an interview Monday.

Major General Athar Abbas described the NATO air strikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers near the border with Afghanistan on Saturday as “lasting for over an hour” in an interview with FRANCE 24 on Monday. The military spokesman added that commanders called for a ceasefire from NATO but their calls went unheard.

While NATO has described the incident as "tragic and unintended", the length of the attack has further inflamed anti-US anger in Pakistan. Before the deadly attack, ties between the two countries were already deteriorating and have sunk to new lows since.

The poorly defined, mountainous border between Pakistan and Afghanistan has been a constant source of tension between Pakistan and the United States.

According to news wires, unnamed Afghan officials have said that Afghan commandos and US special forces were conducting a mission on the Afghan side of the border on November 26 and received incoming fire from the direction of the Pakistani posts, provoking them to respond with air strikes.

“We communicated (…) that the posts in such-and-such a location are under heavy fire and the fire should be ceased immediately,” explained Abbas. “[But] the firing went on for over an hour.” NATO has promised a full investigation into the incident.

End of co-operation?

Abbas said that while “there is a great stress on the relationship,” he did not believe the incident will lead to a complete breakdown in relations. “It will be the decision of the leadership whether to stop co-operating with NATO. But I don’t think so because we believe that there is a common threat of terrorism and we are both fighting to eliminate the terrorists in that area.” He argued instead that “the terms of the co-operation should be drawn up so that each side knows what the limits are”.

Saturday's strikes have added to popular anger in Pakistan against the US-led coalition presence in Afghanistan. Many in the army, parliament, general population and media already believed that the US and NATO were hostile to Pakistan.

“There is a great sense of resentment and anger,” Abbas said during his interview in Paris. “More so because in this area the Pakistani army conducted operations in the past, cleared the area of the militants with great effort, and sacrificed over 70 officers and soldiers in this fight.”

While the United States is unpopular in Pakistan, the army has accepted billions in American aid over the last 10 years in return for its co-operation in fighting al-Qaeda. “We perhaps may have a different direction or a different methodology, because we are fighting in our own country against our own people,” Abbas said.

Hours after the attack on Saturday, Pakistan closed its western border to trucks delivering supplies to NATO troops in Afghanistan and demanded that the US abandon an air base in Pakistan used to operate drone strikes.

Date created : 2011-11-28

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