U.S. soldiers strayed into Pakistani territory while hunting al-Qaida and Taliban suspects in southeastern Afghanistan and were turned back by Pakistani troops, a military official said Wednesday.
American soldiers in at least three military vehicles entered Pakistan’s Lowara Mandi town in the North Waziristan tribal region on Sunday evening, said a Pakistan army spokesman, Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan.
Such incidents are highly sensitive. President Gen. Pervez Musharraf is a staunch U.S. ally, but has steadfastly refused to allow U.S. soldiers to operate on his territory, fearing a backlash from religious conservatives. Pakistan has rejected American requests for the right of “hot pursuit” to follow terror suspects over the border while engaged in combat.
The U.S. troops on Sunday searched shops and a gas station for suspected terrorists for at least 20 minutes in Lowara Mandi, about 225 miles southwest of the capital, Islamabad, Sultan said.
Pakistani troops arrived and told the Americans they were in Pakistan. The U.S. soldiers apologized and returned to Afghanistan, he said.
“We feel it was an inadvertent crossing,” Sultan said. “It could not be termed hot pursuit.”
Sultan said the U.S. troops came 200-300 yards inside Pakistan, across a rugged, mountainous border that’s not clearly marked.
North Waziristan and adjoining South Waziristan lie along Afghanistan’s southeastern provinces of Paktia, Paktika and Khost, where U.S. often carry out searches for Taliban and al-Qaida insurgents.