News & Current Affairs

February 20, 2010

Dutch cabinet collapses in dispute over Afghanistan

Dutch cabinet collapses in dispute over Afghanistan

A Dutch soldier in Afghanistan

Dutch forces have been in Uruzgan since 2006

The Dutch government has collapsed over disagreements within the governing coalition on extending troop deployments in Afghanistan.

After marathon talks, Christian Democratic Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende announced that the Labour Party was quitting the government.

He offered his government’s resignation to Queen Beatrix in a telephone call.

The premier had been considering a Nato request for Dutch forces to stay in Afghanistan beyond 2010.

But Labour, the second-largest coalition party, has opposed the move.

Just under 2,000 Dutch service personnel have been serving in the southern Afghan province of Uruzgan since 2006, with 21 killed.

Their deployment has already been extended once.

Where there is no trust, it is difficult to work together
Jan Peter Balkenende

The troops should have returned home in 2008, but they stayed on because no other Nato nation offered replacements.

The commitment is now due to end in August 2010.

The Dutch parliament voted in October 2009 that it must definitely stop by then, although the government has yet to endorse that vote.

Mr Balkenende’s centre-right Christian Democrats wanted to agree to Nato’s request to extend the Dutch presence in Afghanistan.

But this was bitterly opposed by the Dutch Labour Party.

The finance minister and leader of the Labour Party, Wouter Bos, demanded an immediate ruling from Mr Balkenende.

When they failed to reach a compromise, Labour said it was pulling out of the coalition.

Nato priority

Mr Balkenende said he would offer the cabinet’s resignation to the Dutch Queen Beatrix later on Saturday following the collapse of the government.

It was announced after a 16-hour cabinet meeting which ran into the early hours of Saturday morning.

The prime minister said there was no common ground between the parties.

“Where there is no trust, it is difficult to work together. There is no good path to allow this cabinet to go further,” he said.

The launch in 2001 of Nato’s International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) for Afghanistan was the organisation’s first and largest ground operation outside Europe.

Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said six months ago when he began his job that his priority was the war in Afghanistan.

As of October 2009, Isaf had more than 71,000 personnel from 42 different countries including the US, Canada, European countries, Australia, Jordan and New Zealand.

Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende

Mr Balkenende had been considering the Nato request

The US provides the bulk of foreign forces in Afghanistan, and President Barack Obama has announced an extra 30,000 American troops for Afghanistan.

The Pentagon has said the next 18 months could prove crucial for the international mission in Afghanistan, after more than eight years of efforts to stabilise the country.

Afghanistan remains a deadly place for foreign forces.

Suicide attacks on Afghan civilians and roadside bomb strikes on international troops are common, with the Taliban strongly resurgent in many areas of the country.

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July 19, 2009

Afghan helicopter crash kills 16

Afghan helicopter crash kills 16

Russian-built Mi-8. File photo

Russian media say the aircraft was an Mi-8 similar to this

A civilian helicopter has crashed in southern Afghanistan, killing at least 16 civilians and injuring five, Nato officials have confirmed.

The helicopter crashed at Kandahar airfield apparently as it was trying to take off, though Nato has ruled out the involvement of insurgents.

Reports from Moscow say the helicopter was a Russian-built Mi-8.

The crash is the second in a week. Six passengers died when a helicopter came down in Helmand province on Tuesday.

‘Not shot down’

Russia’s Interfax agency quoted a spokesman for Russia’s Federal Air Transportation Agency (Fata) as saying the aircraft was a Russian-built Mi-8 transport helicopter.

Map

Fata said it was owned by the Russian air company Vertical-T.

The nationalities of the dead are not yet known.

A statement from Nato’s International Security Assistance Force said: “A civilian contracted helicopter crashed during take-off from Kandahar airfield.

“Emergency personnel are on the scene. There was no indication of the cause of the accident but insurgent action has been ruled out.”

Kandahar airfield is Nato’s largest air base in southern Afghanistan but the BBC’s Martin Patience in Kabul says a lot of civilian aircraft fly in and out so there is no surprise this was a civilian crash.

A Nato spokeswoman, Lt Cmdr Sam Truelove, told the AFP news agency it had been confirmed that all the dead were civilians and no military personnel were involved.

RECENT HELICOPTER CRASHES
14 Jul 2008: Six Ukrainian civilians and Afghan girl die in crash in Helmand. Suspected enemy fire
6 Jul 2008: One UK and two Canadian soldiers die in crash in Zabul province. Enemy fire not suspected
15 Jan 2008: Afghan general and 12 other soldiers die in crash in Herat province. Bad weather blamed
30 May 2007: Seven killed as Nato Chinook crashes in Helmand. Cause unclear

The condition of the injured was not known, she said.

Vertical-T was founded in 1992 and started to work abroad in 1998 in Italy. It has worked in countries including Germany, East Timor, Cyprus, Yemen and Greece, according to the company’s website.

The company’s helicopters are currently carrying out operations in the interests of the UN in Afghanistan and a number of other countries including Congo, Sudan and Pakistan.

The dead in Tuesday’s crash in Helmand were all civilians.

That helicopter crashed near the Sangin military base, with local people saying it had been shot down by insurgents.

Six Ukrainian crew members of the Mi-26 helicopter died, along with an Afghan girl on the ground.

July 12, 2009

US president sets Afghan target

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 5:07 am

US president sets Afghan target

A US Marine helicopter delivers supplies in Helmand province, 11 July

Thousands of new US troops are boosting the effort in Afghanistan

The increasingly deadly conflict in Afghanistan is a “serious fight” but one essential for the future stability of the country, the US president says.

Insisting that US and allied troops have pushed back the Taliban, Barack Obama said the immediate target was to steer Afghanistan through elections.

The country is due to hold a presidential vote in August.

Mr Obama spoke to Sky News as concern grew in the UK at the rising British death toll in Afghanistan.

UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown was also forced on Saturday to justify British involvement in Afghanistan.

Mr Brown said the UK’s military deployment there was aimed at preventing terrorism in the UK.

Fifteen British troops have died in the past 10 days, pushing the country’s number of deaths in Afghanistan past the number killed in action in Iraq.

‘Extraordinary role’

Speaking during a day-long visit to Africa, Mr Obama also told Sky News that the battle in Afghanistan was a vital element in the battle against terrorism.

He said the continued involvement of British troops in the conflict was necessary, right and was a vital contribution to UK national security.

US President Barack Obama in Ghana, 11 July

Barack Obama has boosted troop levels and is hoping for tangible results

“This is not an American mission,” Mr Obama said.

“The mission in Afghanistan is one that the Europeans have as much if not more of a stake in than we do.

“The likelihood of a terrorist attack in London is at least as high, if not higher, than it is in the United States.”

He praised the efforts of all troops currently fighting the Taleban in gruelling summer heat, singling out British forces for praise when asked if their role was still important.

“Great Britain has played an extraordinary role in this coalition, understanding that we can not allow either Afghanistan or Pakistan to be a safe haven for al-Qaeda, those who with impunity blow up train stations in London or buildings in New York.

“We knew that this summer was going to be tough fighting. They [the Taliban] have, I think, been pushed back but we still have a long way to go. We’ve got to get through elections.”

‘Core mission’

Since taking office in Washington in January of this year, Mr Obama has announced a troop “surge” in Afghanistan.

British soldiers carry the coffin of a comrade, 10 July

British troops have endured a deadly week in Afghanistan

The US has said it is sending up to 30,000 new troops to Afghanistan this year to take on a resurgent Taleban. They will join 33,000 US and 32,000 other Nato troops already in the country.

He also replaced the incumbent US commander in the country, ousting Gen David McKiernan less than a year into his command.

The new US chief in Afghanistan, Gen Stanley McChrystal, has a stellar reputation from his days commanding special forces operations in Iraq.

He has been tasked with the mission of outsmarting the Taliban, who continue to win support among ordinary Afghans often caught in the crossfire of the bitter fighting.

High numbers of Afghan civilian casualties have become an issue of major concern to the US. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has regularly called on the international forces to reduce the numbers of Afghans killed in its operations.

Speaking to Sky News, Mr Obama said although forces were currently engaged in heavy fighting, new strategies for building bridges with Afghan society would be considered once the country had held its presidential election.

A young girl in Afghanistan, 10 July

Afghan civilians often bear the brunt of the conflict with the Taliban

Afghanistan needed its own army, its own police and the ability to control its own security, Mr Obama said – a strategy currently being implemented in Iraq, where security is being handed over to Iraqi forces.

“All of us are going to have to do an evaluation after the Afghan election to see what more we can do,” the president said.

“It may not be on the military side, it might be on the development side providing Afghan farmers alternatives to poppy crops, making sure that we are effectively training a judiciary system and a rule of law in Afghanistan that people trust.”

“We’ve got a core mission that we have to accomplish.”

July 3, 2009

Deadly military crash in Pakistan

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 6:32 pm

Deadly military crash in Pakistan

Pakistani military MI-17 helicopter (3.6.09)

Pakistan uses military helicopters widely in the rugged north-west region

Up to 26 Pakistani security personnel are feared dead after an army transport helicopter crashed in the tribal region of Orakzai, military officials say.

Maj Gen Athar Abbas told the news the helicopter crashed on the border of the Khyber and Orakzai tribal region.

The cause of the crash is unclear, although officials said the most likely explanation was a technical failure.

The crash comes as a suspected US drone strike in South Waziristan killed at least 10 militants, officials said.

The Mike Wooldridge in Islamabad says it is understood the MI-17 helicopter had been flying back to Peshawar from the Afghan border region when the pilot put out a Mayday alert.

Map locator

The helicopter then came down “in a hostile area” where it was fired upon by militants, according to officials.

Troops were sent in and exchanged fire with the insurgents.

Military officials said that an investigation into the crash would be carried out.

But our correspondent says it is a serious blow for the Pakistani military as it prepares for the next phase of its offensive against Taliban militants in the north-west tribal belt along the Afghan border.

In the latest fighting, military jets are reported to have attacked suspected Taliban positions in South and North Waziristan.

Unnamed intelligence officials said the drone attack in South Waziristan had targeted a militant training facility.

The region – on the Afghan border – is controlled by Pakistan’s most senior Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud.

July 2, 2009

US opens ‘major Afghan offensive’

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 8:36 am

US opens ‘major Afghan offensive’

The US army says it has launched a major offensive against the Taliban in south Afghanistan’s Helmand province.

The US military says about 4,000 Marines as well as 650 Afghan troops are involved, supported by Nato planes.

Brigadier General Larry Nicholson said the operation was different from previous ones because of the “massive size of the force” and its speed.

The offensive is the Marines’ first major operation since their recent deployment to Afghanistan.

It is also the first such operation under President Barack Obama’s presidency.

The operation – codenamed Khanjar or Strike of the Sword – began when units moved into the Helmand river valley in the early hours of Thursday.

Afghan map

Helicopters and heavy transport vehicles carried out the advance, with Nato planes providing air cover.

UK-led forces in Helmand launched their own operation to combat the Taliban insurgency last week, in what the Ministry of Defence described as one of the largest air operations in modern times.

Thousands of British forces under Nato command have been fighting the Taliban in Helmand since 2006, but there has been criticism that they have been overstretched and under-resourced.

Security aim

Southern Afghanistan is considered a Taliban stronghold.

The security forces will build bases to provide security for the local people so that they can carry out every activity with this favourable background, and take their lives forward in peace
Gulab Mangal
Helmand Governor

“Where we go we will stay, and where we stay, we will hold, build and work toward transition of all security responsibilities to Afghan forces,” said Brig Gen Nicholson in a statement.

At a briefing at the US military’s Camp Leatherneck last week, he told personnel and embedded reporters: “One of the most critical things is to tell people why we’re there, and we are going to have a limited opportunity to gain their trust.”

The operation would have an initial highly aggressive stage lasting 36 hours, AFP news agency reported.

It aims to improve security ahead of presidential elections on 20 August, allowing voter registration where before there was none, Gen Nicholson said.

US soldiers in Afghanistan, 27 June, 2009

US troops are working to flush out Taliban from Helmand province

A US military spokesman, Captain William Pelletier, told the news there had been “no enemy contact” in the first hours of the operation, but one marine was slightly injured when an improvised explosive device detonated in the village of Nawa.

Nawa and nearby Garmsir – south of the provincial capital Lashkar Gah – are key targets in the operation, as the area is considered a refuge for militants and no US or Nato troops have previously operated there in large numbers.

Capt Pelletier said the US military was prepared for casualties, but stressed that “it is absolutely essential that no civilians be harmed”.

Helmand Governor Gulab Mangal predicted the operation would be “very effective”.

“The security forces will build bases to provide security for the local people so that they can carry out every activity with this favourable background, and take their lives forward in peace.”

Troop numbers

I am convinced that the addition of those [US] troops is going to improve the security situation
General Jim Dutton
Commander of UK forces

As of June 2009, Nato’s International Security Assistance Force had 61,130 personnel from 42 countries including the US, Canada, European countries, Australia, Jordan and New Zealand.

The US is the largest contributor, providing 28,850 soldiers.

It also has troops under Operation Enduring Freedom – mostly in the east of Afghanistan on the border with Pakistan – that are not under Isaf’s command.

In December 2008 they numbered 17,100.

President Obama has pledged to send an additional 21,000 extra soldiers to Afghanistan, many of them redeployed from operations in Iraq, to help with training Afghan security forces and to tackle the insurgency.

Last week the commander of UK troops in Afghanistan, General Jim Dutton, denied that the battle against the Taliban was “a losing campaign”.

Gen Dutton welcomed the planned increase in US troop numbers.

“I am convinced that the addition of those [US] troops is going to improve the security situation,” he said.

June 20, 2009

US admits Afghan airstrike errors

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 8:04 am

US admits Afghan airstrike errors

A child in hospital after Farah strikes,09/05

A row has been rumbling since the strikes in early May

Failure by US forces to follow their own rules was the “likely” cause of civilian deaths in Afghan airstrikes last month, a US military report says.

US officials investigated seven strikes on Taliban targets in Farah province on 4 May, and concluded that three had not complied with military guidelines.

The report accepts that at least 26 civilians died, but acknowledges that the real figure could be much higher.

The Afghan government has said 140 civilians were killed in the strikes.

Washington and Kabul have been at loggerheads for weeks over the number of civilians killed in the incident.

ANALYSIS
James Coomarasamy
James Coomarasamy

The report’s conclusions are couched in caveats, but by releasing it late on a Friday afternoon the Pentagon has underlined its embarrassment at what may be the worst case of civilian deaths since coalition forces entered the country in 2001.

As well as acknowledging that there was a failure to follow strict military guidelines, the report recommends unspecified steps to be taken to refine that guidance and urges a greater engagement in the public relations battle.
It states that the coalition should be “first with the truth”.

Yet the report also calls into question whether the true number of civilian deaths, in this incident, will ever be known.

It sticks with the US military’s initial estimate of 26, but describes a report by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, which speaks of at least 86 civilian casualties, as “balanced” and “thorough”.

The US report defends the Farah operation, saying the use of force “was an appropriate means to destroy that enemy threat”.

“However, the inability to discern the presence of civilians and avoid and/or minimise accompanying collateral damage resulted in the unintended consequence of civilian casualties,” the report says.

It says the final three strikes of the engagement, which took place after dark, did not adhere to “specific guidance” in the controlling directive.

“Not applying all of that guidance likely resulted in civilian casualties,” the report says.

It concedes that the precise number of civilians killed in the attack may never be known because many victims were buried before the investigation started.

The document makes a number of recommendations to reduce the likelihood of civilian deaths.

It says lines of communication must be improved, new guidelines should be introduced and personnel need to be retrained.

Gen Stanley McChrystal, the US commander in Afghanistan, is currently reviewing US rules in relation to airstrikes.

He said last month that US forces should use them only if the lives of Nato personnel or American troops were clearly at risk.

Both Nato and US have have insisted that avoiding civilian casualties is their priority in all battles.

January 9, 2009

Pakistan al-Qaeda leaders ‘dead’

Pakistan al-Qaeda leaders ‘dead’

An undated photograph of Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan released in 1998 by the US district attorney's office

Swedan is said to have been Kini’s top aide

Al-Qaeda’s operations chief in Pakistan and another top aide are believed to have been killed, US sources say.

Usama al-Kini and his lieutenant, Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan, were both killed in recent days, US counter-terrorism officials said.

Unconfirmed reports say the two men were killed by a missile fired by a US drone near the Afghan border.

Kini was believed to be behind last year’s deadly attack on the Marriott hotel in Islamabad, they said.

Fifty-five people were killed when a truck packed with explosives rammed the hotel in September 2008.

‘Significant’

Both al-Qaeda suspects died in South Waziristan, on Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, an unidentified US counter-terrorism official told Reuters news agency.

“These deaths are a significant near-term degradation of al-Qaeda’s leadership,” he added.

Aftermath of the blast at the Marriott hotel in Islamabad, on 20 September 2008

Kini was involved in the Islamabad Marriott attack, officials say

He gave no details of how the men died.

However, the Washington Post, also citing intelligence sources, said they were killed in a missile strike by a CIA drone aircraft on a building on 1 January.

“They died preparing new acts of terror,” the US daily quoted a counter-terrorism official as saying.

The men – both born in Kenya – were on the FBI’s most-wanted list over the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

Kini was also thought to have been behind an unsuccessful attempt on the life of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was later killed in a separate attack, US officials said.

The website reported on 1 January that an unmanned CIA aircraft had fired three missiles in the Karikot area of South Waziristan, killing three suspected militants.

The US has launched dozens of similar attacks in recent months, mostly targeting Taleban and al-Qaeda militants in Pakistan’s tribal regions.

‘Violation’

The lawless tribal areas on Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan are considered a sanctuary for the insurgents.

The US says the militants regularly cross over the porous border into Afghanistan where the US troops have been fighting since 2001.

The drone attacks are believed to have been largely on-target, hitting Taleban and al-Qaeda hideouts.

There have been few civilian casualties, officials say.

But Pakistani media and opposition parties term these attacks a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and the government has been under immense public pressure to defend its territory against them.

Islamabad says the attacks are counter-productive as they help offset the negative popularity the Islamist militants have gained in areas under their control.

November 13, 2008

Iran envoy abducted in Pakistan

Iran envoy abducted in Pakistan

The car of the kidnapped Iranian diplomat

The diplomat’s car was hit by bullets

Gunmen have kidnapped a diplomat from Iran and killed his guard in the north-western Pakistani city of Peshawar, police say.

The Iranian diplomat was said to be the commercial attache of the consulate.

The incident happened a day after an American aid worker and his driver were shot dead as they traveled to work in a suburb of the city.

Violence has surged in the north-west in recent months with a wave of attacks blamed on Islamist militants.

A police officer told the AFP news agency that the diplomat was traveling to the consulate in Peshawar when the gunmen attacked his car.

“The attackers sprayed bullets, forcing the car to stop and then dragged out the diplomat while his police guard was killed,” Banaras Khan said.

Worsening security

The gunmen took away the diplomat in a separate vehicle, another policeman said.

Authorities have cordoned off the city’s main road and are trying to trace the diplomat.

In a similar incident two months ago, unknown gunmen kidnapped Afghan consul-general, Abdul Khaliq Farahi, from the same locality after killing his driver. Mr Farahi is still missing.

On Tuesday, American aid worker Stephen Vance and his driver were killed just outside their office in the University Town area in Peshawar. It is still not clear who the attackers were.

Map

Mr Vance worked for Cooperative Housing Foundation (CHF) International, which is working to implement US-funded projects to help develop the troubled tribal belt.

Areas close to Peshawar – the biggest city in north-west Pakistan – are known to be Taleban and al-Qaeda strongholds.

The region has been hit by several bombings and suicide attacks recently.

On Tuesday, a suicide bomber walked up to the gate of a stadium in Peshawar and blew himself up.

The attack happened as the governor of North-West Frontier Province left after a sports tournament.

He was unhurt but at least one man was killed and three people were injured.

The security situation across Pakistan has steadily worsened over the past few years, with Taleban militants holding sway over a large stretch of North-West Frontier Province.

But our correspondent says attacks on foreigners in Pakistan are rare. Across the border in Afghanistan aid workers and other foreigners have increasingly been targeted in recent months.

Gunmen attacked the car of a US diplomat in Peshawar in August, but she was unhurt.

September 22, 2008

Pakistan to target rebel hotspots

Pakistan to target rebel hotspots

Pakistan’s government has pledged to take targeted action against militants, a day after a suicide bomb killed 53 people in the capital, Islamabad.

Interior Ministry adviser Rehman Malik said raids would be carried out in some “hotspots” near the Afghan border.

Earlier, the authorities revealed that a truck laden with 600kg of high-grade explosives had rammed the Marriott Hotel security gate before blowing up.

Rescuers have been combing the wreckage for survivors and bodies.

The blast left 266 people with injuries.

Although most of those killed were Pakistani, the Czech ambassador and two US defense department workers were among the dead.

The attackers had disguised the truck well as it was covered with a tarpaulin and loaded with bricks and gravel
Rehman Malik

A Vietnamese citizen was also killed in the blast, in which at least a dozen foreign nationals were wounded.

The Danish Foreign Ministry said one of its diplomats was missing.

No group has taken responsibility for the attack, but Mr Malik suggested responsibility lay with al-Qaeda and Taleban militants based in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) on the Afghan border.

“In previous attacks, all roads led to Fata,” he said.

The attack might have been retaliation for army bombardments of suspected Taleban targets with jet fighters.

Room-by-room search

The heavily-guarded hotel was attacked at about 2000 (1500 GMT) on Saturday.

CCTV footage of the moments before the blast show a six-wheeler lorry ramming the security barrier at the hotel gate.

Rescuers in Islamabad, 21/09

Rescue teams combed the scene for bodies and survivors

Shots are fired and the vehicle starts to burn. Security guards initially scatter, but return to try to douse the flames.

The footage breaks of at the moment of the blast because the camera was destroyed. It created a crater about 8m (27ft) deep, and triggered a fire which engulfed the 290-room, five-storey building for hours.

Officials said the lorry contained explosives as well as grenades and mortars. Aluminium powder was used to accelerate the explosion and added to the ferocity of the blaze.

“I do not believe this is a breakdown in security. The attackers had disguised the truck well as it was covered with a tarpaulin and loaded with bricks and gravel,” Mr Malik said.

Witnesses described a scene of horror as blood-covered victims were pulled from the wreckage and guests and staff ran for cover from shattered glass and flames.

The fire has now burned out and rescue workers have been searching the building room-by-room, pulling bodies out of the blackened debris.

‘Confronting the threat’

Immediately after the bombing, newly-elected President Asif Ali Zardari vowed to root out the “cancer” of terrorism in Pakistan.

Map

He has now flown to New York to attend the UN General Assembly session, where he will meet US President George W Bush on the sidelines.

The meeting comes amid tension between the two countries over US attacks on militants in tribal areas of Pakistan, close to the Afghan border.

In the wake of the attack, President Bush pledged assistance to Pakistan in “confronting this threat and bringing the perpetrators to justice”.

The Marriott is the most prestigious hotel in the capital, and is located near government buildings and diplomatic missions. It is popular with foreigners and the Pakistani elite.

The hotel has previously been the target of militants. Last year a suicide bomber killed himself and one other in an attack at the hotel.

September 15, 2008

Pakistan soldiers ‘confront US’

Pakistan soldiers ‘confront US’

Map

Pakistani troops have fired shots into the air to stop US troops crossing into the South Waziristan region of Pakistan, local officials say.

Reports say nine US helicopters landed on the Afghan side of the border and US troops then tried to cross the border.

South Waziristan is one of the main areas from which Islamist militants launch attacks into Afghanistan.

The incident comes amid growing anger in Pakistan over US attacks along the border region.

The confrontation began at around midnight, local people say.

They say seven US helicopter gunships and two troop-carrying Chinook helicopters landed in the Afghan province of Paktika near the Zohba mountain range.

US troops from the Chinooks then tried to cross the border. As they did so, Pakistani paramilitary soldiers at a checkpoint opened fire into the air and the US troops decided not to continue forward, local Pakistani officials say.

Reports say the firing lasted for several hours. Local people evacuated their homes and tribesmen took up defensive positions in the mountains.

The incident happened close to the town of Angoor Adda, some 30km (20 miles) from Wana, the main town of South Waziristan.

A Pakistani military spokesman in Islamabad confirmed that there was firing but denied that Pakistani troops were involved.

Diplomatic fury

It emerged last week that US President George W Bush has in recent months authorised military raids against militants inside Pakistan without prior approval from Islamabad.

There have been a number of missile attacks aimed at militants in Pakistan territory in recent weeks.

Pakistan reacted with diplomatic fury when US helicopters landed troops in South Waziristan on 3 September. It was the first ground assault by US troops in Pakistan.

Locals in the Musa Nikeh area said American soldiers attacked a target with gunfire and bombs, and said women and children were among some 20 civilians who died in the attack.

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