Pakistan has angrily condemned a raid on a tribal region village
that officials say killed at least 15 people, including women and children. Islamabad claims that U.S.-led troops used helicopters to fly in from Afghanistan and carry out the attack.
If Islamabad's allegations are true, the attack on September 3 would be the first known foreign ground assault against a suspected militant haven in Pakistan's tribal regions.
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told the National Assembly the raid was a shameful violation of rules of engagement agreed with U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan.
"We will not compromise on any violation of our sovereignty," Qureshi said. "We will defend and ... we have a resolve and we have national consensus in Pakistan to defend our territorial integrity."
A spokesman for Pakistan's Army warned that the presence of foreign troops on Pakistani soil would likely spark an uproar. Pakistan’s new civilian government is struggling to assert its authority and a new president is scheduled to be elected on September 6.
The spokesman said the use of foreign ground troops was an escalation from previous U.S. missile and air strikes in the tribal regions. He strongly condemned the raid as a gross violation of Pakistani territory that could undermine security cooperation with Washington.No Public U.S. Response
On September 3, Pakistan's Foreign Ministry summoned U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson to receive Islamabad's formal complaint.
But in an indication of the political sensitivities involved, the Bush administration has let the complaints stand without a public response.
In fact, officials at the Pentagon, the White House, and the U.S. State Department have refused to confirm to reporters whether a raid even occurred.
A spokesman for the U.S.-led antiterrorism coalition in Afghanistan also refused to comment on Islamabad's allegations, saying he had no information to give to media on the issue.
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan denied involvement in any raid into Pakistani territory.
But Pakistan's Defense Minister Chaudary Ahmad Mukhtar told reporters in Islamabad on September 4 that the helicopters used in the raid were from ISAF.
Mukhtar also says the U.S. government should communicate with Pakistan's Foreign Ministry about the reasons for the attack.
"What were the reasons that three ISAF helicopters attacked three houses inside our tribal territory?" he asked.
Reports say the raid occurred on a militant stronghold in a border region that is considered a likely hiding place for both Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda's second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahri.
It remains unclear whether any extremist leaders were killed or captured in the operation.
Previously, when senior Al-Qaeda leaders have been captured, the Pentagon has kept quiet for weeks in order to give interrogators a chance to gather up-to-date intelligence on other militants.High-Value Target?
The apparent boldness of the operation has fueled speculation that at least one high-ranking Al-Qaeda leader was targeted.
Analysts say the target of any raid into Pakistan by U.S. ground troops or U.S. Special Operations Forces would have to be extremely important to risk an almost certain backlash from Islamabad.
Pakistan's top Interior Ministry official said earlier this week that Pakistani security forces had missed a chance to catch al-Zawahri just two days before the alleged U.S. raid.
Interior Ministry chief Rehman Malik said al-Zawahri has been moving between Pakistan's tribal areas and the eastern Afghan provinces of Kunar and Paktia.
U.S. military commanders have complained publicly that Pakistan does not put enough pressure on militant groups in the tribal regions that are blamed for mounting violence in Afghanistan.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai also has repeatedly accused Pakistan of failing to prevent militants from crossing into Afghanistan to carry out attacks. Karzai said in June that Afghanistan and coalition forces have the right "to destroy terrorist nests on the other side of the border in self-defense," if Pakistan fails to do so.