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Pakistan Objects to Reported U.S. Attack That Left 8 Dead

Islamabad blames fire across Afghan border. Locals say Americans entered their tribal area. The Pentagon denies knowledge of incident.

January 10, 2006|Mubashir Zaidi and Zulfiqar Ali | Special to The Times

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan said Monday that it had lodged a strong protest with U.S.-led forces in neighboring Afghanistan after eight people were killed during a weekend attack in a remote tribal region.

Witnesses in the unruly North Waziristan tribal area, which borders Afghanistan, said that U.S. ground troops and helicopters entered Pakistani territory to carry out the attack Friday night, which they said also wounded nine people. Though Pakistani officials disagreed with that account, they charged that cross-border fire was responsible for the deaths.

"American troops did not enter our territory, but we did receive fire from across the border in which eight people died," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tasneem Aslam told a news briefing here Monday.

The dead and wounded included women and children, local officials said.

A doctor at the hospital in Miram Shah, administrative capital of North Waziristan, said the wounded had received shrapnel injuries and were in stable condition.

In Washington, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman on Monday said he had no knowledge of the cross-border shooting alleged by the Pakistanis. He said that all U.S. military operations were focused on Afghanistan's border with Pakistan, where U.S. commanders believe that senior Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters are hiding.

Residents and officials of the tribal territory say two U.S. helicopters hovered over the village of Saidgi on Friday night just before the house of a Muslim cleric exploded.

Momin Khan, a tribal elder in the village about three miles from the border, said U.S. troops in five vehicles drove under cover of darkness from Afghanistan's Khowst province into Pakistani territory before the missile strike.

"The intruders besieged a cluster of mud houses and took away two tribesmen after a brief search operation," Khan said by telephone from the border region.

An hour later, he said, a helicopter fired a missile at the home of the cleric, Maulvi Noor Mohammed.

The cleric was suspected of providing shelter to militants crossing into Afghanistan to launch attacks on U.S.-led coalition forces, sources in North Waziristan said.

Aslam, the Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said Pakistani authorities had launched an inquiry to determine what happened and whether U.S. aircraft crossed into Pakistan.

Early today, Pakistani officials said a rocket killed seven soldiers about midnight at an army post in Sarbandki, a village east of Miram Shah, Associated Press reported.

Last month, a senior Al Qaeda suspect was reportedly killed in the area, and residents said they had found metal fragments at the site believed to have been from an American Hellfire missile fired by a drone aircraft.

U.S.-led forces are battling remnants of the Taliban government and allied militants in Afghanistan.

Afghan officials contend that the insurgents are being trained and armed in Pakistan, a charge the Pakistani government repeatedly has denied.

Special correspondents Zaidi and Ali reported from Islamabad and Peshawar, Pakistan, respectively. Times staff writer Mark Mazzetti in Washington contributed to this report.

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