Pakistan official says U.S. strike not intentional

WASHINGTON Wed Jun 11, 2008 4:43pm EDT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Pakistan does not view a U.S. air strike that killed 11 Pakistani soldiers at a border post near Afghanistan as an intentional hostile act, Pakistan's ambassador to the United States said on Wednesday.

Ambassador Husain Haqqani rejected U.S. assertions that the U.S. forces had coordinated with Pakistan as they mounted the strike during a counter-offensive against Islamist militants.

But he also told Reuters the incident was not expected to cause Pakistan to reconsider its relationship with Washington despite strong protests in Islamabad, where the U.S. ambassador was summoned for a meeting with the foreign ministry.

"We will look upon this as an incident that is not an intentional action to cause harm to Pakistan," said Haqqani, who took up his duties in Washington this month.

"The issue has been discussed between representatives of the government of Pakistan and representatives of the U.S. government, and we would like the circumstances of the incident investigated," he added.

"We do look upon it as not an act that should cause us to reconsider our partnership, but rather to find ways of improving that partnership," Haqqani said in an interview with Reuters reporters.

He stopped short of calling the air strike accidental, saying its character could not be fully determined until after an investigation.

The soldiers were killed in what a Pakistani security official said was a counter-offensive after militants had launched an attack into Afghanistan. The U.S. military said the strike had been aimed at anti-Afghan militants and Pakistan had been told in advance.

COORDINATION

Haqqani took issue with repeated U.S. assertions that the air strike had been coordinated with Pakistan: "To my knowledge, that is not correct, for the simple reason that if the Pakistani authorities had coordinated the strike, the people killed would not have been Pakistani soldiers."

He said Pakistan would use the incident to try to improve border security coordination with the Afghan government and the U.N.-mandated International Security Assistance Force, which is battling Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan.

Security along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan has long been a prickly issue for the Bush administration, which has been adding troops in Afghanistan to quell rising Taliban violence that U.S. officials say is often planned and even executed from inside Pakistan.

Pakistan's new government, elected in the aftermath of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's assassination in December, has stirred unease among U.S. officials by seeking peace agreements with militants on its side of the border.

U.S. officials fear that peace deals would only allow militants a freer hand to pursue operations across the border in Afghanistan. NATO reported an increase in April in Taliban violence in eastern Afghanistan, a region near the site of Wednesday's air strike.

"The war against terror requires the sympathetic support of the people of Pakistan, which the new government is trying to build and incidents like this distract from our ability to mobilize Pakistani public opinion against the militants and the terrorists," Haqqani said.

U.S.-controlled Predator drones are believed to have struck at least four sites used by al Qaeda operatives in northwest Pakistan this year, killing dozens of suspected militants and sparking public concern about infringement of Pakistani sovereignty.

(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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