ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Pakistani allegations of a NATO helicopter attack that killed at least 20 Pakistani soldiers near the Afghan border early Saturday will probably deal a serious blow to already tense relations between Washington and Islamabad at a time when the U.S. needs Pakistan’s help in brokering negotiations with insurgents in Afghanistan.
Local officials said the alleged incursion occurred about 2 a.m. Saturday at a Pakistani army checkpost in Salala, a village in the restive tribal region of Mohmand. About 50 soldiers were at the checkpost at the time, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on such matters.
NATO officials said they were aware of Pakistan’s claim and were checking into it.
Pakistani authorities quickly denounced the episode as a gross violation of their country’s sovereignty. Islamabad also retaliated as it has in the past when NATO aircraft incursions into Pakistani territory have resulted in casualties -- by shutting down a border crossing used by convoys delivering supplies to NATO forces in Afghanistan.
Pakistani officials at the Torkham checkpoint at the Khyber Pass said Saturday afternoon that they had suspended all movement of NATO tankers and supply trucks heading into Afghanistan.
A similar incident occurred more than a year ago, when NATO helicopters crossed over into Pakistan’s Kurram tribal region along the Afghan border and fired on paramilitary troops at a border patrol checkpoint, killing two Pakistani soldiers. The U.S. government and NATO formally apologized for the deaths of the Pakistani soldiers, saying the helicopter crews mistook the men for insurgents it had been pursuing across the Afghan border.
At the time, Pakistan responded by closing the Torkham checkpoint for 11 days, effectively stopping the movement of trucks and tankers ferrying fuel and supplies to NATO troops in Afghanistan. The border shutdown created a massive bottleneck, which paved the way for a series of militant attacks on parked NATO oil tankers and trucks across Pakistan. More than 150 NATO trucks were set ablaze or damaged in those attacks. At least six people were killed.
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