Pakistan mulls deploying air defence

2011-12-09 13:29
Islamabad - Pakistan may deploy air defence weapons to the Afghan border to prevent future Nato airstrikes such as the recent one that the Pakistani military claims was planned and that killed 24 of the country's soldiers, a senior lawmaker said on Friday.

US officials have denied the attack in November was deliberate and have worked to repair the damage it caused to the country's already strained relationship with Pakistan. Finding a way to mend ties is important because Pakistan is seen as critical to the Afghan war.

The possibility of Pakistan deploying air defence weapons to the border shows just how much distrust exists between the country and US-led forces fighting in Afghanistan, even though Islamabad has received billions of dollars in American aid over the last decade.

The Nato airstrikes against two army posts on the Afghan border before dawn on November 26 added to anger that Pakistan still felt over the covert US raid that killed Osama bin Laden in a Pakistani garrison town in May.

Pakistani officials were outraged they were not told beforehand about the operation against the al-Qaeda chief, which also originated in Afghanistan, and fumed over the violation of the country's sovereignty - as they have done with the Nato attacks.

Drone strikes

Major General Ashfaq Nadeem, Pakistan's head of military operations, told the Cabinet and the Senate's defence committee on Thursday that officials believe the airstrikes were planned and speculated they may have been carried out by the CIA, according to the head of the defence committee, Javed Ashraf Qazi, who attended the briefing.

The CIA is widely despised in Pakistan because of frequent drone strikes targeting militants in Pakistan's tribal region.

Nadeem said the military was considering deploying air defence weapons to the Afghan border to prevent future attacks, according to Qazi.

A report in Pakistan's leading English-language newspaper, Dawn, erroneously said the military has already decided to deploy the weapons.

"You cannot deploy these systems on each and every outpost. Sometimes these posts are attacked by militants, and you may lose these weapons," said Qazi, a retired army general and former head of Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency.

Despite these risks, the defence committee was convinced the military should deploy air defence weapons to the border, said Qazi.

Pakistan army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani has instructed troops on the ground that they are allowed to strike back against any future incursions without prior approval of top commanders, Qazi quoted Nadeem as saying.

Wrong co-ordinates

Nato attacks have killed Pakistani troops at least three different times along the porous and poorly defined border since 2008, but the November 26 incident in the Mohmand tribal area was by far the most deadly.

US officials have said the strike occurred when a joint US and Afghan patrol requested air support after coming under fire. The US checked with the Pakistan military to see if friendly troops were in the area and were told there were not, they said.

Pakistan has said the Americans gave the wrong co-ordinates - an allegation denied by US defence officials. Pakistani officials have also said the attack continued even after authorities contacted one of the centres meant to co-ordinate military activity between forces on either side of the border.

Pakistan retaliated immediately by closing its Afghan border crossings to Nato supplies, demanding the US vacate an air base used by American drones and boycotting an international conference held earlier this week in Bonn, Germany, aimed at stabilising Afghanistan.

The crisis has come as Pakistan continues to battle militant and other forms of violence across the country.

A vehicle carrying paramilitary soldiers in Pakistan's southern port city of Karachi hit a roadside bomb on Friday, killing three troops and wounding four others, said police official Akram Naeem.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Islamist militants, including the Pakistani Taliban and their allies, have carried out many such bombings throughout the country. Karachi has also experienced frequent violence caused by power struggles between gangs allegedly connected to the city's main political parties.
Read more on:    pakistan  |  us  |  security

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