U.S. defends Pakistan incursion as ‘self-defense’

By Jonathan S. Landay and Saeed Shah

McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

KABUL, Afghanistan – Pakistan protested angrily Monday after the U.S.-led international force in Afghanistan confirmed that its helicopters staged cross-border air strikes last week against Pakistan-based Afghan militants “in self-defense.”

Islamabad’s sharp reaction to the helicopter strikes Saturday came despite a long-standing understanding that allows the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force to pursue militants who attack Afghanistan from bases in Pakistan’s rugged tribal territory.

ISAF usually informs the Pakistani military of any such incursion, but “in this instance, there was no coordination until after, because of the imminent danger to the troops,” said a U.S. defense official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. “This goes to the inherent right of self-defense.”

In a related development, U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus, the top commander of coalition forces, said that U.S.-backed Afghan President Hamid Karzai had received overtures from senior Taliban leaders responding to his initiative to open peace negotiations.

“There are very high-level Taliban leaders who have sought to reach out to the highest levels of the Afghan government, and they have done that,” Petraeus told reporters after a tour of a detention facility for suspected insurgents at Bagram, the largest U.S. base in Afghanistan. Afghan government officials, however, said the Taliban officials aren’t senior leaders.

The Pakistani protest appeared to be intended mostly for a domestic audience that deeply opposes U.S. attacks on insurgent strongholds on the Pakistani side of the border as violations of its country’s sovereignty. The ISAF airstrikes Saturday were “a clear violation and breach of the U.N. mandate under which ISAF operates,” Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Abdul Basit said in a statement.

“In the absence of immediate corrective measures, Pakistan will be constrained to consider response options.” Pakistan lodged an official protest with ISAF, he said.