Nato helicopter attacked a Pakistani security post near the Afghan border today, killing three troops, officials in Pakistan said.
Nato said it was investigating the claim and whether it was linked to an operation against insurgents in a nearby Afghan province.
The incident was likely to fray relations between Pakistan and US-led forces in Afghanistan at a crucial time in the nine-year war. Just last weekend, Nato helicopters opened fire on targets across the border, killing several alleged insurgents inside Pakistan.
Islamabad protested over the incidents, which have further stirred already pervasive anti-American sentiments among Pakistanis.
Shortly after the allegations emerged, two government officials told The Associated Press they were ordered to stop Nato supply trucks from crossing into Afghanistan at the Torkham border post, a major passageway for Nato materials.
Earlier this week, Pakistan threatened to stop providing protection to Nato convoys if the military alliance’s choppers attacked targets inside Pakistan again.
Pakistani officials differed on the exact location of the deadly air strike, saying it took place either in Upper Kurram or Upper Orakzai. The remote, mountainous tribal regions neighbour one another, and the border is hard to distinguish.
The dead men were from a paramilitary force tasked with safeguarding the border, the Pakistani security officials said. Their bodies were taken to the region’s largest town of Parachinar, one official said. Three other troops were wounded.
Lieutenant Colonel John Dorrian, a spokesman for intelligence and special operations at Nato headquarters in Kabul, said coalition forces observed what they believed were insurgents firing mortars at a coalition base in Dand Wa Patan district of Paktia province in eastern Afghanistan early today.
“A coalition air weapons team called for fire support and engaged the insurgents,” he said. “The air weapons team reported that it did not cross into Pakistani air space and believed the insurgents were located on the Afghan side of the border.”
Lt Col Dorrian said Nato was reviewing the reports to see if the operation in Paktia was related to Pakistan’s reports that its forces were hit by Nato aircraft.
In June 2008, a US air strike killed 11 Pakistani troops and dented the two nations’ ties. Pakistan said the soldiers died when US aircraft bombed their border post in the Mohmand tribal region. US officials said their coalition’s aircraft dropped bombs during a clash with militants. They expressed regret over the incident, but said it was justified.
Pakistan and the US have a complicated relationship, with distrust on both sides.
Polls show many Pakistanis regard the United States as an enemy, and conspiracy theories abound of US troops wanting to attack Pakistan and take over its nuclear weapons. The Pakistani government has to balance its support for the US war in Afghanistan with the support it needs from the population.
The US and Nato need Pakistan’s co-operation in part because they use its land routes to transport supplies to their troops inside landlocked Afghanistan. The Pakistani government officials said about 250 vehicles of Nato supplies cross into Afghanistan daily.
There were more than 100 Nato vehicles blocked at the checkpoint by this morning, they said.