September 27, 2008

Islamabad in rebuke to US after shoot-out

THE first major shoot-out on the tense border with Afghanistan between anti-terrorism allies Pakistan and the US plunged their relations to a new low last night as President Asif Ali Zardari told Washington: "Friends can't be intruders."

In a dramatic escalation of the stand-off between the two nations over cross-border raids, conflicting accounts emerged of what military analysts regard as a serious encounter involving groundfire by Pakistani troops aimed at bringing down US helicopter gunships.

The US forces - part of the NATO coalition force fighting in Afghanistan - fired back at Pakistani positions from their helicopter gunships as well as from the ground in what is the biggest exchange of its kind.

"It is in the interests of both sides at this stage to try to play things down. But there can be no disguising the seriousness of this encounter, and what it means in terms of future co-operation. Things are going from bad to worse," a well-placed military source in Islamabad told The Weekend Australian last night.

Official Pakistani military spokesmen said the shooting started when the US helicopter gunships were spotted flying deep inside Pakistani territory in North Waziristan, a hotbed of jihadi militancy that is a stronghold for militants operating in Pakistan as well as Afghanistan.

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