Last Updated 9/3 7:35 PM EST
Early this morning NATO helicopters landed in a tiny village in South Waziristan, just a mile from the Afghan border. The forces killed 20 people including three women and four children, according to local residents, and wounded an undetermined number of others.
North-West Frontier Province Governor Owais Ahmed Ghani condemned the attack as “cowardly” and confirmed that at least 20 innocent civilians were killed. He also urged Pakistan’s military to “defend the sovereignty of the country”. NATO spokesman declined comment on the incident.
Local media reported that tribesmen launched a protest in the wake of the attack, marching and chanting anti-American slogans. It has also reportedly added to discontent with the Pakistani government, which is seen as too weak to stop such attacks. In a first attempt at quelling this concern, Pakistan’s Foreign Office announced that it had summoned US Ambassador Anne Patterson to lodge a formal protest against the incursion. In a separate statement, the foreign ministry called the strike “counter-productive”.
The Bush Administration was reported last month to be considering stepped up military strikes inside Pakistan, and while missile and artillery strikes against Pakistan’s tribal areas are not uncommon, the use of ground forces to attack a village on the Pakistani side of the border is virtually unprecedented. The move is being ill-received in the upper echelons of Pakistan’s government, as in his July visit to Washington Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani warned President Bush against unilateral actions within Pakistan. It also comes just three days before Pakistan’s presidential election, in which the Pakistani Peoples Party’s de facto leader is courting the votes of tribal legislators to secure victory.
But the US is also said to be losing trust in the Pakistani government. The administration has accused Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency of having close ties with Islamist militants, and has pressed Pakistan’s military to do more to secure its long and porous border.