ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan protested Monday over an apparent violation of its airspace by NATO helicopters from Afghanistan over the weekend, saying it would consider “response options” to any future incursions.
Two NATO Apache helicopters killed 30 insurgents on Pakistani soil after a rare manned pursuit across the border from eastern Afghanistan Saturday, NATO forces said, adding the insurgents had earlier attacked a remote Afghan security outpost in Khost province.
Later that day, two Kiowa helicopters returned to the area and killed another four, NATO-led International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) said in a statement Sunday. ISAF was not immediately able to confirm whether the Kiowa helicopters had also crossed the border.
There was another possible border violation Monday, when six militants were killed in Pakistan’s Kurram borderland agency, a Reuters reporter in the area said, but an ISAF spokesman said it was “near the border,” rather than in Pakistan.
“We did have a helicopter ... engagement near the border, but our reporting does not indicate that the helicopters crossed the border,” said Major Michael Johnson. “However we are still receiving reports from the field so we are still gathering data.”
ISAF said in a statement issued late Sunday that the helicopters were following its rules of engagement when they crossed into Pakistan.
Rejecting the assertion, a Pakistani foreign office spokesman said the U.N. mandate under which ISAF operates “terminates/finishes” at the Afghanistan border and that there were no agreed “hot pursuit” rules.
The spokesman, in a statement, called the aerial engagements a clear violation and breach of the U.N. mandate given to ISAF, and “unacceptable” to Pakistan.
“In the absence of immediate corrective measures, Pakistan will be constrained to consider response options,” it said.
Washington sees the rugged border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan as a critical battleground in its fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban.
Incursions into Pakistan are extremely rare. The United States prefers to use unmanned aerial drones for its attacks on militant positions in Pakistan’s borderlands, known to be a haven for militant groups.
A suspected U.S. drone aircraft fired two missiles at a house in Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal region on the Afghan border Monday, killing at least two suspected militants, intelligence officials said.
Additional reporting by Emma Graham-Harrison in Kabul; Editing by Chris Allbritton/Ruth Pitchford