US Air Strike on Afghan-Pakistan Sparks Anti-US Backlash

By Shaheen Buneri | July 7, 2008 | 8:19 PM EDT

Peshawar, Pakistan ( - A U.S. air strike that killed at least 19 people along the Afghan-Pakistan border has sparked scathing criticism of United States policies, with growing calls for changes to be made in the bilateral partnership against terror.

Political observers believe that the attack will further complicate Pakistan's fragile political situation.

Exactly what happened on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) remains in dispute, but Pakistan says 11 troops at a border checkpost were among those killed. The Taliban says eight of its members were killed.

The U.S. Wednesday released video footage of the air strike, saying it showed that U.S. forces were legitimately targeting "anti-Afghan" militants. "Although it is early, every indication we have is that it was a legitimate strike in self-defense against forces that had attacked coalition forces," said Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell.

Syed Irfan Ashraf, a Peshawar-based political analyst, said it was unusual for the Pentagon to release video after an attack.

"It shows a growing realization on part of U.S. military commanders that direct attacks on Pakistan security forces will stress the relationship between the two allies in the war against terror," he said.

Ashraf said he expected the incident to have a spillover effect and could boost militancy in the tribal belt and other parts of Pakistan, including the neighboring North West Frontier Province (NWFP).

The U.S. worries that the tribal area and NWFP already offer havens for terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda.

Jamat-e-Islami (JI) and other religious political parties that did poorly in the February general election are hoping to use the opportunity to try rally support for their position opposing Islamabad's support for the United States.

Siraj-ul-Haq, the JI president in NWFP and a former senior minister in the provincial government, announced two days of protests against the attacks.

The NWFP Chief Minister, Amir Haider Hoti, said Thursday it was time for the federal government to review and revise the policy on the war on terror.

"On one hand, our cooperation is sought in the war on terror, while on the other hand our forces and checkposts are being targeted by the coalition forces," he told reporters in Peshawar.

The NWFP government, controlled since the election by a secular Pashtun party, has negotiated peace deals with local Taliban in a bid to quell violence in the area. The U.S. and NATO officials in Afghanistan say such agreements can harm security in the region.

For their part, political analysts and media here argue that incidents like the air strike strengthen militancy.

"The impression is that Islamabad is no longer able to prevent foreign troops from striking at will across its frontiers," The News, a Karachi-based newspaper, said in an editorial. "Indeed, anger over the U.S.-led actions both in the NWFP and in other parts off the country, is quickly adding to the ranks of those who would choose the militants over Washington's favored leaders."

"The U.S. should understand that such attacks only further intensify hatred against the U.S. among the local population in the tribal areas, and elsewhere in the country," said The Post, a Lahore daily.

Mehmod Jan Babar, a journalist who visited the area where the incident occurred, said he observed that some local tribes which earlier refused to support the Taliban were now rallying behind the militants.

The FATA is administered separately from Pakistan's four "settled" provinces. The area has long seen resentment over a slow pace of development and poor health and educational facilities.

See Related Story:
Pashtun Paramilitaries' Role in Border Security Spotlighted (Jun. 13, 2008)

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