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Shots fired as US-led troops near Pakistani border: officials

by Staff Writers
Peshawar, Pakistan (AFP) Sept 15, 2008
Shots were fired when US-led coalition helicopters based in Afghanistan neared the border with Pakistan, officials said Monday, but there were conflicting accounts of the incident.

Security officials said the threat of an incursion Sunday led Pakistani troops and tribesmen to fire their weapons, but the chief Pakistan army spokesman, the Pentagon and the coalition denied any such incident took place.

The gunfire broke out about 100 metres (yards) from the South Waziristan tribal area, where Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters are believed to be sheltering. There were no casualties.

"The US-led coalition troops in helicopters came close to the border and they tried to sneak into Pakistan territory but shots were fired by Pakistani troops and the coalition troops retreated," a local security official said.

A military official based in the area initially confirmed to AFP that an incident took place.

"There was firing but our troops were not involved," he told AFP. "Firing was heard but there was no violation of Pakistan territory," he said.

A second security official in the area said tribesmen joined in the firing after Pakistani soldiers played bugles to alert local people to the threat of an incursion.

But the Pakistan army's chief military spokesman, Major General Athar Abbas, denied there had been any such incident late Sunday.

"These reports are not correct," he said.

"We have checked, there is an FC (Frontier Corps) post in the area. No helicopter came inside our side of the border, nor did our troops fire at any," Abbas added.

In Washington, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the incident "did not happen."

"I can't find any mission that correlates to the reports I saw," he said. "I can't find any report about helicopters being fired upon."

The alleged clash took place amid high tensions in the border region a week after Pakistan accused US troops of carrying out a direct attack in the same area that left 15 people dead.

The US-led coalition, based in Bagram, Afghanistan, also said they were not aware of Sunday's incident.

"Our helicopters do fly close to the border conducting routine missions, but none have attempted to cross into Pakistan. We have no reports of such events," an official in the media office said.

US and Afghan officials say Pakistan's tribal areas are a safe haven for Al-Qaeda and Taliban rebels who took sanctuary there after the fall of the Taliban regime in late 2001.

Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, are widely believed to be hiding in the mountainous region.

Pakistan vowed Sunday to defend itself against violations of its air space and incursions by US forces in Afghanistan.

Separately, US drones have carried out repeated missile strikes killing dozens of people, including civilians, in Pakistan and straining the relationship between the "war on terror" allies.

The civilian deaths have stirred local anger and embarrassed the Pakistani government, already struggling to tackle the militancy that has seen 1,200 of its own people die in bombings and suicide attacks in the past year alone.

Pakistan's army, itself engaged in fierce clashes against militants linked to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in the border regions, has previously condemned what it sees as unilateral US action that violates the country's sovereignty.

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US to boost military presence in Afghanistan by 1,800
Washington (AFP) Sept 15, 2008
The US military presence in Afghanistan will grow by a maximum of 1,800 troops by the end of January, AFP has calculated, based on figures provided by the Pentagon Monday.

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