Two Held Over Afghan Chinese Killings
Fri Jun 11, 1:41 PM ET By STEPHEN GRAHAM, Associated Press Writer
KABUL, Afghanistan - Authorities arrested two suspects and were seeking three others Friday in the killing of 11 Chinese road workers in northern Afghanistan, the deadliest attack on foreign civilians since the fall of the Taliban.
Farther south, insurgents launched a barrage of rockets at a heavily guarded convoy of U.N. and Afghan officials in a stronghold of Taliban-led militants, but caused no injuries.
More than 30 vehicles were picking their way through the mountains of Gomal, a lawless district in Paktika province, 140 miles south of the capital, Kabul.
"Suddenly they were attacked with rocket-propelled grenades fired from a long distance," provincial police chief Gen. Mohammed Rahim Alikhel told The Associated Press.
Some of the dozens of Afghan and American troops guarding the convoy returned fire, and the assailants fled, Alikhel said.
The vehicles were taking Paktika Gov. Ghulab Mangal, U.N. officials and American military officers on a mission to prepare for government administrators to return to the province. Several journalists, including a contingent from ABC News, were accompanying the convoy.
Poor security has prevented the United Nations from registering voters in much of the south and east, hampering preparations for national elections slated for September.
But authorities also face growing problems in the north after Thursday's slaughter of Chinese contractors working on a flagship road project.
Assailants crept up to the workers' tents in a desert camp 150 miles north of Kabul and shot them as they slept. An Afghan guard was also killed.
Gen. Mohammed Daoud, the military commander in Kunduz province, said two suspects were picked up Friday in connection with the killing and three more were being sought.
He gave no details and said it was too early to say whether anti-government militants — Taliban, al-Qaida or followers of Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar — were responsible.
On Friday morning, Afghan and German military planes brought the dead and five wounded from Kunduz to Kabul airport.
Chinese Embassy staff helped medics carry the green plastic body bags to a line of ambulances, which took them to the morgue at the city's military hospital. Officials said they would be taken to China over the weekend.
Four of the wounded were admitted to a hospital run by international peacekeepers. Chinese Ambassador Sun Yuxi told the AP they were all in good condition. A fifth was released.
The company was implementing a $22.5 million World Bank project to rebuild a chunk of vital highway from Kabul to the Tajik border.
Other reconstruction projects, such as the main highway from Kabul to Kandahar, have gone ahead only under tight security for fear of attack.
But the Chinese camp was unfenced and had only one armed guard.
Sun said the road project could resume only after a thorough investigation.
Asked why measures to protect the camp were feeble, Sun said company executives would visit Kunduz this weekend "to work on that."
"Obviously, they were not strong," he said.
Mystery surrounds deadly attack on Chinese workers in Afghanistan
Saturday June 12, 10:41 AM AFP
Two men have been arrested following the shocking murders of 11 Chinese construction workers in Afghanistan, according to the government in Beijing, but mystery remains as to who masterminded the brutal attack.
China's official Xinhua news agency reported that two people had been detained over the killings while a provincial police chief said one man, a local, had been arrested and that investigations were continuing.
"Based on the information we received, we arrested one suspect called Mullah Tor," Mutalib Bek told AFP on Friday from northeastern Kunduz province. "He was on his way towards Kunduz," city when he was picked up, he said.
The Taliban militia has denied responsibility for the killings which occurred in the early hours of Thursday as 100 Chinese engineers, labourers and managers slept in tents pitched on a plain in northeast Kunduz province, some 36 kilometres (23 miles) south of the provincial capital of the same name.
"We deny the accusation of killing the Chinese workers in Kunduz province of Afghanistan," Abdul Latif Hakimi, who claims to represent the ousted militia, told AFP Friday by telephone from an undisclosed location.
Hakimi said the deaths "should not have happened."
Local police were also unsure as to why the Chinese, along with one Afghan police guard, would be cut down by machinegun fire as they slept in tents pitched inside a building site set back some 200 to 300 metres (yards) from the road.
The killers appeared to know where to direct their fire, the group of 20 who were armed with machine guns had attacked the most crowded of the tents, according to an AFP journalist who viewed the site.
Seven of the eight people in this first tent died and one was wounded.
Most of those killed had only arrived in the area, some 200 kilometres north (125 miles) of Kabul, the day before.
A spokesman for President Hamid Karzai, in the United States after attending the G8 summit and the funeral of former US president Ronald Reagan, said the government could not say who was responsible for the attack.
"We still say whoever it was, it is the enemies of Afghanistan, and it's people who are against reconstruction," spokesman Khaleeq Ahmad said from the US Friday. "We can't really say who."
However, he stressed that the incident would not weaken the government's resolve to hold elections as planned in September despite Taliban threats of violence at the polls.
"Elections must go on," Ahmad said. "The incident that happened should not stop the election process."
The group of Chinese, who were from eastern Jiangxi province, had been set to asphalt six kilometres of the Kunduz to Baghlan road they were building the day they were attacked.
Kunduz was one of the last pockets of Taliban resistance following the 2001 US-led offensive against the regime following the September 11 terror attacks in the United States.
Despite denying responsibility for the latest attack, the Taliban spokesman said his militants were behind the June 2 killing of three Europeans working for Medecins Sans Frontieres and their two Afghan colleagues in the country's northwest.
Hakimi told AFP Friday that the ousted extremists were organising for a "holy uprising" ahead of the general elections.
"Taliban are an organised power. You will witness organised and regular attacks in the north of the country, same as the south," he said.
"We have made this holy uprising to bring an Islamic government to the country and fight the Americans who want to weaken Islam in Afghanistan."
Chinese FM meets with Afghan president
Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing said Friday in Washington that the Chinese government believes the Afghan government will thoroughly investigate the terrorist attack on Chinese workers in Afghanistan and bring those responsible to justice.
Li, who was here as the special envoy of Chinese President Hu Jintao to attend the funeral of the late US President Ronald Reagan, made the remarks at a meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
The Chinese government strongly condemned the terrorist attack, which killed more than 10 Chinese workers early Thursday, and believed the Afghan government would take every necessary measure to protect the life and property of the Chinese institutions and personnel in Afghanistan, Li said.
Karzai asked Li to tell the Chinese president that he, on half of the Afghan government, condemned the terrorist attack and expressed deep condolences to the victims and their families. The Afghan government attached importance to the incident, and is taking vigorous actions to pursue the murderers so as to punish them by law, he said.
He said the Chinese people are friends of the Afghan people. The Afghan government and people are grateful that many Chinese workers are constructing roads and bridges in Afghanistan, helping the Afghan people in their pursuit for peace and happiness. The Afghan government and people will take all necessary measures to ensure the safety of the Chinese institutions and personnel in Afghanistan.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who was in Washington for the funeral, also asked the Chinese foreign minister to convey his condolences to the victims and their families of the terrorist attack. The United Nations will provide assistance in rescuing those wounded and handling matters relating to the incident, he said.
Taliban deny responsibility for killing 11 Chinese in Afghanistan
Saturday June 12, 1:53 AM AFP
The Taliban denied involvement in the slaying of 11 Chinese workers in their sleep in northeast Afghanistan, the bloodiest attack on foreigners since the militia's harsh rule ended almost three years ago.
The denial came as the bodies of the 11 reconstruction workers killed were transferred to Kabul ahead of repatriation to China and at least one man was arrested in relation to the savage attack.
Abdul Latif Hakimi, claiming to represent remnants of the ousted Islamic fundamentalist militia, said the horrific killings "should not have happened."
President Hamid Karzai, in the United States to attend the G8 summit, blamed the killings on Afghanistan's "enemies" while Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah said the cold-blooded murders were carried out by "terrorist elements."
Acting President Mohammed Qasim Fahim, the defence minister standing in for Karzai, on Thursday said he considered "the network of Taliban, Al-Qaeda and their allies behind the incident."
According to local police one man has been arrested in relation to the attack, however China's official news agency Xinhua said two people had been detained.
"Based on the information we received, we arrested one suspect called Mullah Tor," near the site of the killings, Kunduz provincial police chief Mutalib Bek told AFP.
"He was on his way towards Kunduz," when he was picked up, he said, adding the investigation was continuing.
China's ambassador Sun Yuxi, who had travelled to the northern province, returned to Kabul Friday along with the four injured workers. They were taken to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) hospital in the east of the capital.
The remains of the deceased are being kept in a military hospital in Kabul.
The dead were among about 100 Chinese engineers, drivers, managers and labourers sprayed with machinegun fire as they slept in tents near a road in Kunduz province, about 250 kilometres (150 miles) north of Kabul on Thursday.
Ten of the dead have been identified as aged between 31 and 56, Xinhua reported. All were from Shangrao City in eastern Jiangxi province. One of the dead was yet to be identified.
Most of the Chinese workers, who were employed by the China Railway Shisiju Group Corporation (CRSGC) to build a road between Kunduz and Baghlan provinces, had arrived in Afghanistan only the previous day.
The company Friday despatched a 14-member team from Beijing to Afghanistan to investigate the attack, according to Xinhua. The team will also make arrangements for the return of the dead and the care of the wounded.
The murders in an area of Afghanistan previously considered to be one of the safest regions in the country have reawakened fears within the government and among observers that a resurgent Taliban could invalidate upcoming elections.
Presidential and parliamentary polls have been set for September but security has worsened in the south and southeast and along the border with Pakistan because of suspected Taliban.
Director of the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit think-tank Andrew Wilder said it was hard to see a healthy number of voters being registered amid the deteriorating security situation.
"If they are having attacks in Badghis and Kunduz, which are perceived to be the safest places in Afghanistan, nowhere can be viewed as safe anymore," he told AFP.
"It's hard to see how the UN and the government is going to be able to register the numbers needed for these elections to be credible."
The attack follows the killing of three Europeans working for Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) along with two of their Afghan support staff on June 2 when their vehicle was ambushed and shot at in northwestern Badghis province.
Hakimi claimed responsibility for the attack on the medical workers but said the Chinese had not been targetted because they were not working for "American goals" or the UN.
"UNAMA (the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan) is... taking their orders from the Americans and some other organizations such as MSF are working for the interests of the Americans so they are our targets," he said.
China sends company team to Afghanistan
The Hindu, India
Beijing, June 11. (PTI): China today sent a team of officials from a government-owned construction firm to Afghanistan, where 11 Chinese workers were killed by unidentified gunmen.
The staff of the China Railway No.14 Subsidiary Co. left for Afghanistan via Beijing, to pay condolences to the relatives of the dead and to handle matters related to Thursday's terrorist attack in Afghanistan, Xinhua news agency reported.
The company, which had employed the victims, is based in Jinan, capital of east China's Shandong province.
All the 11 victims have been identified.
The four wounded, including one badly injured, have been sent to a hospital in Kunduz province in Afghanistan, where medical staff of the United Nations are also helping in the treatment, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said.
China Railway No.14 Subsidiary Co. sent an engineering team, consisting of 61 Chinese, to Afghanistan for a reconstruction project of the Kunduz highway, according to the contract signed by the two sides last October.
Despite the terrorist strike, China said it would pursue all construction projects in Afghanistan.
Bodies of Chinese Workers Flown to Afghan Capital
Friday, June 11, 2004; 11:08 AM By Sayed Salahuddin
KABUL (Reuters) - The bodies of 11 Chinese road workers killed in the worst attack on foreigners in Afghanistan since the Taliban's overthrow were flown to Kabul on Friday.
Wrapped in green body bags, the corpses were flown aboard two Afghan military helicopters from the northern province of Kunduz, where the workers were attacked as they slept in their tents early on Thursday.
A Chinese embassy official said plans were being made to repatriate the bodies to China.
Those killed were employed by a Chinese firm implementing a World Bank-funded road project, part of reconstruction efforts in the country where infrastructure has been badly damaged by more than a quarter century of war.
Until Thursday, Kunduz had been deemed one of the safer parts of Afghanistan since the Taliban's overthrow in late 2001.
A top military commander in Kunduz General Dawood said on Friday two suspects related to the incident had been arrested. He gave no other details.
The killings came amid a rise of violence in several parts of the country that has raised questions about whether plans to hold landmark elections in September are viable.
Last week, three foreigners and two Afghans from the Medecins Sans Frontieres aid group were killed in the northwestern province of Badghis, raising concern that the insurgency is spreading.
The election has already been delayed from June because of worry about violence and the slow pace of disarmament of tens of thousands of factional militiamen, and slow voter registration.
The militants have vowed to disrupt the polls and drive out a 20,000 strong U.S.-led force and NATO-led peacekeepers.
More than 800 people have been killed, most in militant-related violence, since August, the bloodiest period since the Taliban's fall.
Most attacks have been attributed to the Taliban, their al Qaeda allies and followers of ex-prime minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who is also leader of a radical Islamic group.
Kunduz's provincial governor, like top government officials in Kabul, blamed the killing of the Chinese workers on militants bent on destabilizing the government.
But the Taliban, the main guerrilla group opposed to Karzai's government, have denied involvement, and General Dawood blamed a disgruntled northern commander aiming to disrupt security and reconstruction.
Dawood did not name the commander.
The raid was another blow for Karzai, who is in the United States and will meet President Bush next week.
It will also be a concern for Bush, who would like to be able to present Afghanistan as a foreign policy success story ahead of his bid for reelection, especially given U.S. problems in Iraq.
The attack will raise questions too about attempts to boost provincial security with limited foreign troop deployments, since it occurred despite the presence of 200 NATO-led peacekeepers in Kunduz, the largest such provincial team in the country.
The U.N. has halted the process of voter registration in Kunduz and road travel for its staff in and out the province, while aid workers have been advised to limit their movement.
China condemned the attack as a "brutal terrorist act" but said it had no plan to pull its workers out of the country.
It backed the U.S.-led war on terror after the September 11 attacks, but has expressed misgivings over the war in Iraq and militant attacks on Chinese overseas have been rare.
Afghan election delay is new blow for Bush campaign
Duncan Campbell Saturday June 12, 2004 The Guardian
The elections in Afghanistan seem certain to be delayed for a second time, dealing a damaging blow to President George Bush's own election campaign.
The delay comes amid growing concern about the security of the election process after the killing on Thursday of 11 Chinese construction workers.
It is now impossible for the election to be held legally in September, the date for which both the interim government of President Hamid Karzai and the United Nations were aiming, itself a delay from the intended June polling day. It is understood that the new date is likely to be around October 5.
It has also emerged that not a single dollar pledged to pay for the elections has been given by donor countries, including members of the EU and the US.
Even if the $70m (£38m) pledged is given, there is still a shortfall in paying for the $101m costs of a proper election, an indication of how far the international community's attention has shifted away from Afghanistan since the official end of the hostilities. The lack of money is hampering registration.
Under Afghanistan's electoral process, 120 days have to elapse between the certification of the constituencies and polling day.
That work was only completed last week, which rules out the September date still being promoted by the authorities. According to Reg Austin, the chief technical adviser to the UN's joint electoral management body, the earliest possible date is early October.
"We are not in September any more," he said. "The law is quite clear and that takes us inexorably into October."
Even this date is by no means certain. If the security situation worsens or the registration process stalls because of violence and intimidation in the southern and south-eastern areas, a decision could be made to post pone the vote until next spring, although President Karzai is strongly committed to a vote this year. There are concerns within the international community that not enough time has been given for the electoral process.
"Given Afghanistan's history and the international community's responsibility in that history, it should allow the Afghan people sufficient time to prepare themselves for the election, if it is to have any credibility," said Barbara Stapleton of the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghanistan Relief (ACBAR). "If the elections are held before the country is prepared, it may well lock Afghanistan's politics into a very dangerous course."
On some levels the registration drive has been going well, said a UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan spokesman. An estimated 3.4 million people have now registered, around a third of the desired total of 9.5 million, and women have registered in far higher numbers than expected, with at least a million enrolled.
In some provinces, including ones such as Herat regarded as conservative, women are accounting for almost half the registered voters.
President Karzai is currently in the US, where he has been meeting President Bush. Mr Bush is anxious that Afghanistan should go to the polls before his own date with the electorate in November so that, with the condition in Iraq deteriorating, he can point to at least one foreign democratisation process.
The role of the US government is regarded as a major factor. While it would be damaging to Mr Bush if Afghanistan were not at the polls before his own date with the electorate, it might be even more harmful if the election took place and was a shambles with some provinces barely participating.
Pakistan army battles Al-Qaeda-linked fighters near Afghan border
Saturday June 12, 10:46 AM AFP
Fighting raged into the night as Pakistani troops besieged suspected Al-Qaeda hideouts in the northwest tribal region bordering Afghanistan after trapping up to 50 foreign militants, officials said.
Three days of fighting in South Waziristan, a notorious hub for Al-Qaeda suspects, had left at least 59 people dead as of late Friday, including 40 militants, 16 soldiers and three civilians, according to military.
The fighting began after foreign militants launched pre-dawn attacks on army posts on Wednesday, killing 15 soldiers.
Thousands of Pakistani troops backed by Cobra helicopter gunships targetted a training camp and two Al-Qaeda hideouts in South Waziristan, military spokesman Major General Shaukat Sultan said.
The offensive has been focused on the outskirts of the Shakai valley, 25 kilometers (16 miles) west of Wana, the main town in South Waziristan where in late March the army's largest ever operation in the war on terror ended in heavy losses with 46 soldiers killed.
Sixty-three militants were also killed in that operation, which was criticized for having not driven foreign fighters from the area.
Journalists have not been allowed access to the battle zone but Sultan offered some details at a news conference Friday evening with the help of slides of the three sites under assault in the region.
An Al-Qaeda run training center perched in the mountains away from populated areas is among the targets.
Sultan, showing satellite images of the camp marked "Al-Qaeda center for special training", said the site was equipped with a firing range and other training facilities used to teach fighters how to carry out terrorist acts.
Another slide showed two buildings and a compound, which Sultan described as safe houses, allegedly used by Al-Qaeda fighters while traveling to other areas.
"Whenever there was a threat they could withdraw and retreat into these safe houses," Sultan told AFP.
"These are the houses which are ... well protected."
Sultan said soldiers had already destroyed the house of local Al-Qaeda leader Eida Khan, which he said had been used by Al-Qaeda financier Abd Al-Hadi Al-Iraqi. It was not known whether Al-Iraqi was present when the compound was attacked.
The spokesman said Al-Iraqi used to meet militants in this house and provide them with funds to carry out their activities.
Sultan said security forces estimated up to 50 foreign fighters might have been in the area where the offensive was launched Friday.
Some 300 to 400 mainly Chechen and Uzbek Al-Qaeda-linked fighters are believed to be hiding in the region. Arabs and Chinese Uighurs are also said to be among them.
Residents in Wana said they heard gunfire and explosions until late Friday and earlier had heard the sound of helicopters.
Sultan said Friday's offensive was in response to Wednesday's deadly attack on the army posts, and gave an account of the killings he said were committed by the militants.
He said the attackers killed nine paramilitary Frontier Corps men and six regular soldiers in "cold blood".
"They overpowered the Frontier Corps people ... and they killed them in cold blood, they shot them in the forehead. They mutilated their dead bodies," he said.
Sultan said the situation was "fluid" in an area where just seven weeks ago army commanders and tribal elders announced a truce and amnesty deal for militant fighters.
But the government accused "local facilitators" of derailing efforts to reach a non-military solution and said Wednesday's attacks on the army posts were an "abuse of the government's sincere offer" of amnesty.
"The government was left with no choice but to respond in order to establish its writ and eliminate these foreign elements," it said.
13 arrested in connection to murdered aid workers in Afghanistan
Islamabad (dpa) - Thirteen suspects have been arrested in Afghanistan's northwestern Badghis province in connection with the killing of five aid workers of Medecins sans Frontiers (MFSF) last week, the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on Friday.
"Of the 13, eight prime suspects are the focus of investigation,'' provincial police chief Amir Shah Naibzada told AIP.
A central government inquiry committee of the Home Ministry has reached Badghis to probe the killing of three foreigners and two Afghan aid workers on June 2. Taliban has claimed the radical Islamic movement was behind the attack happened in Qadis district.
Naibzada also confirmed reports that some foreign aid agencies in the central Qilano area of the province have been attacked by hand grenades during the past few days, although without any injuries or fatalities.
Taliban guerrillas and the anti-government forces have repeatedly targeted U.S.-led coalition and Afghan forces and aid workers since the fall of radical regime in December 2001.
At least 11 Chinese road construction workers were killed and several others were wounded in an attack in the northeastern Kunduz province on Thursday.
On May 5, two Britons and their Afghan translator working for the British firm Global Risk - which is providing logistic and security services to the electoral process - were killed by suspected Taliban in the eastern Nuristan province.
Taliban rebels had already announced a large-scale operation across all of Afghanistan ahead of the country's scheduled first free election in September, which was originally planned to be held in June.
Is Afghanistan safe for foreign workers?
By Amir Shah Daily Times
Countries have been reluctant to come forward with the soldiers and equipment needed to expand the 6,400-strong force farther from Kabul into the north, where warlord militias still hold sway
JALAW GIR: The slaughter of 11 sleeping Chinese road workers was the deadliest attack on foreign civilians since the fall of the Taliban, and dealt a blow to US claims that Afghanistan is becoming safer ahead of milestone elections this fall.
The assault in the relatively tranquil north also underlined the dangers for thousands of foreigners helping to rebuild Afghanistan, where President Hamid Karzai’s US-backed government is fighting off an insurgency by Taliban rebels and their Al Qaeda allies. Aid workers warned the bloodshed could prompt a further pullback of their activities to the capital, Kabul.
The United Nations condemned the “cold-blooded” attack in Kunduz province and halted registration of voters there until at least Saturday _ a further setback in preparations for the September elections, with still only one-third of the estimated 10 million eligible Afghan voters signed up.
Although on a smaller scale, attacks on foreign civilians have intensified in Afghanistan since a similar pattern of targeting expatriates emerged in Iraq, where the Americans are also trying to achieve a democratic transition that could allow US troops to withdraw. President Hamid Karzai, speaking to reporters during US trip, denounced the attack as “a very, very tragic incident.” Defence Minister Mohammed Fahim blamed “the Al Qaeda network and its allies” for the killings.
But a man who says he is a spokesman for the Taliban militia, which hosted Al Qaeda in Afghanistan when it ruled the country, said the Taliban were not involved. Several thousand foreigners including diplomats and security guards live in Afghanistan, managing reconstruction projects, advising the government and running UN programmes.
Most spend their time behind heavy security in Kabul, and those who venture beyond do so increasingly only with armed guards. Thousands of Interior Ministry troops protect the US-funded reconstruction of the country’s main highway from Kabul to Kandahar. As a result, most victims of attacks have been Afghans, and only nine foreigners had died before Thursday, including three European medical relief workers killed in northwestern Badghis province last week. There have been two suicide attacks this year — both against NATO-led peacekeepers — but no major car-bombings.
The US military has attributed the escalation in attacks by Afghan rebels to the approaching elections rather than the Iraqi example. With the landmark vote just three months away, aid groups worry the violence is spreading to the north, destabilising the few areas in which they felt safe.
“It’s possible agencies might start shutting down programmes,” said Barbara Stapleton of ACBAR, an umbrella group for relief groups in Afghanistan.
A small contingent of German troops are based in Kunduz, NATO’s first step in a plan to expand across the north to help provide security for the vote.
But countries have been reluctant to come forward with the soldiers and equipment needed to expand the 6,400-strong force farther from Kabul into the north, where warlord militias still hold sway. ap
US military in Afghanistan says arrests bomb maker
12 Jun 2004 10:18:12 GMT
KABUL, June 12 (Reuters) - The U.S. military in Afghanistan has arrested a bomb maker, who a U.S. spokesman described on Saturday as a "medium-value target", during a raid south of the capital, Kabul.
"The target was an improvised explosive device maker. The capture was accomplished without a shot fired, with no injuries and no damage," a U.S. military spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Tucker Mansager, told reporters.
The bomb maker, who Mansager said was not a foot-soldier, but a medium-value target, was captured by U.S. troops on Friday night, about 70 km (45 miles) south of Kabul.
The spokesman declined to give any more details.
The U.S. military, which leads about 20,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, comes under regular bomb attack in southern and eastern parts of the country where anti-government militants are most active.
The blasts rarely cause serious casualties but five U.S. soldiers were killed in two separate blasts in the past two weeks.
US says helicopter aircraft did not cross Afghan-Pakistan border
Fri Jun 11,12:42 PM ET
KABUL (AFP) - The US military denied that a helicopter belonging to the US-led coalition in Afghanistan crossed into Pakistani airspace.
The Pakistani military had said that a US military helicopter violated air space in northwestern tribal territory on Wednesday, almost two weeks after US and Afghan commanders promised that coalition troops would avoid future intrusions.
"The helicopter violated Pakistani air space in Kurram Agency," military spokesman Major General Shaukat Sultan told AFP on Wednesday.
But the US denied the allegation, saying it had conducted "a thorough investigation" and found it to be "without merit."
"Indeed, we go to extraordinary lengths to ensure we do not inadvertently cross into Pakistani airspace. If we should do so, we are quick to admit our error. There was no need to admit an error in this instance," director of public affairs for the coalition Colonel Randy Pullen said in a statement.
Pullen said the coalition was concerned that "claims of this sort could distract our respective nations from our common goal of battling and defeating terrorism."
"We will not allow unfounded reports to drive a wedge between two strong allies," he added.
Some 20,000 US-led troops are in Afghanistan, the bulk of them deployed in the south and southeast along the border with Pakistan, hunting Taliban, Al-Qaeda and other militants.
In late May US-led coalition commanders in Afghanistan met with senior Pakistani military officers and assured them that coalition troops would avoid incursions into Pakistani territory in future.
The meeting was held after Pakistan expressed concern over repeated US "incursions" in Lwara Mandi, some 300 kilometers (186 miles) southwest of Islamabad last month.
Terrorists pile the pressure on Musharraf
By Ahmed Rashid in Lahore June 11, 2004
An attempt to assassinate a senior Pakistani army commander by terrorists yesterday left 10 soldiers and policemen dead, the latest in a wave of attacks to have destabilised the country.
The growing list of bloody engagements with Islamic militants has provoked increasing public anger against the military and President Pervaiz Musharraf who has been preoccupied with attempts to dismiss the elected prime minister.
Police in Karachi at the scene of a bombing
In yesterday's attack, during the morning rush-hour in the port city of Karachi, at least four gunmen on motorcycles tried to kill the Karachi's corps commander, Lt-Gen Ahsan Saleem Hayat. The general's driver was one of six soldiers and three policemen killed. The other victim was a civilian.
Some of the dead were hit more than a dozen times in an intense gun battle and windows in shops and houses were shattered by gunfire and explosions.
Gen Hayat is one of nine corps commanders, and Karachi is one of the army's key commands. The attack coincided with a renewed upsurge of fighting in the wild tribal borderlands close to Afghanistan.
On Wednesday, militants in the Waziristan region attacked Pakistani army positions, killing about 15 soldiers. In a day-long battle, the army responded with helicopter gunships and heavy artillery, killing 20 militants, including some Uzbeks and Chechens. The fighting was continuing yesterday.
Pakistan has said up to 600 foreign fighters, including Arabs, Chechens and Uzbeks linked to al-Qa'eda, have been hiding out in the tribal areas, protected by local tribesmen.
No group said it was responsible for the Karachi attack but police said it was part of the battle against terrorist groups, including al-Qa'eda and their local sympathisers. "We will have to strengthen our intelligence network," said Rehmatullah Khan, Karachi's mayor.
In the past month in Karachi nearly 60 people have been killed in two suicide attacks by Sunni extremists on Shia mosques, a double car bomb attack on the US consul-general's home and the assassination of a senior Sunni cleric which led to three days of rioting.
The insurgency in the tribal areas is also worrying for the government. After 60 soldiers were killed in a confrontation with some 500 militants in March, the army has been trying to placate the militants with promises of amnesty and forgiveness - much to the chagrin of US military forces based a few miles across the border in Afghanistan, who are trying to halt al-Qa'eda and Taliban attacks from Waziristan.
In Quetta, the capital of the western province of Baluchistan, senior government officials say there is low-level insurgency by several groups of Baluchi nationalists, who are angered by the lack of attention and development by the government to their province.
Baluchi leaders are also incensed that Gen Musharraf appears to be on the verge of sacking his prime minister, Zafrullah Khan Jamali, a Baluchi tribal chief who as Gen Musharraf's nominee, was elected by parliament after the 2002 general election.
Senior generals say they are frustrated with Mr Jamali's failure to provide "good governance" and the corruption of some of his family members.
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