ISLAMABAD / MIRAMSHAH / NEW YORK, Sept 25: Security forces fired on two Nato helicopters which had intruded into Pakistan territory on Thursday, forcing them to turn back to Afghanistan, officials said.

“Two helicopters from the Afghanistan side crossed into Saidgai, Ghulam Khan Sector, North Waziristan. When the helicopters passed over our border post and were well within Pakistan territory, our security forces fired anticipatory warning shots,” said a statement issued by the ISPR.

It said the helicopters returned fire and flew back, adding that Pakistan was in contact with Nato headquarters in Kabul and that the issue was being resolved.

In New York, however, President Asif Ali Zardari said that Pakistani troops were firing ‘flares’ to warn Nato helicopters crossing into Fata.

His comments came minutes after Pentagon said Pakistani forces had fired on two Nato helicopters operating inside Afghanistan.

Mr Zardari, during a meeting with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, contradicted the Pentagon’s version that Pakistani troops had used small arms against Nato helicopters.

“You mean the flares,” said Mr Zardari when a reporter asked him to comment on the Pentagon’s claim.

Asked if the Pakistani military would continue its actions, Mr Zardari said: “The flares or the military coming in?

“Sometimes the border is so mixed that they don’t realise they have crossed the border,” said Mr Zardari, seated opposite Ms Rice at his hotel in New York.

“The border is very, very unclear, I know,” agreed Ms Rice.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters at a briefing in Washington earlier on Thursday that Pakistani troops had fired at US helicopters.

“The flight path of the helicopters at no point took them over Pakistan,” he said. Mr Whitman said US and Nato military officials were speaking to their Pakistani counterparts to determine what had happened and to ensure there would be no recurrence.

“This is an unfortunate incident. It just goes to demonstrate the importance of coordination along that border,” he said. “The Pakistanis have to provide us with a better understanding of why this took place.”

Citing early reports, Mr Whitman said neither helicopter was hit by ground fire and did not return fire against Pakistani positions.

Officials said the aircraft would likely have fired back had they been hit. “We avoided a serious incident,” Mr Whitman said, but added: “The incident is troubling, no doubt.”

Ms Rice tried to defuse the tension, saying that the United States and Pakistan remained close allies in the war on terror.

A military official told Dawn that two American OH-58 reconnaissance helicopters, known as Kiowas, crossed into the border post, prompting the Pakistani side to fire warning shots.

Locals said that one of the helicopters was up to one and half kilometres inside Pakistani territory while the other hovered on the Afghan side.

AFP adds: The International Security Assistance Force insisted however that the choppers had not entered Pakistani airspace.

“Isaf helicopters received small-arms fire from a Pakistan military checkpoint along the border near Tanai district, in Khost province, while conducting routine operations in Afghanistan,” it said in a statement.

“There are no reports of any damage to the helicopters or any casualties.” The statement added: “Isaf forces and the Pakistani military are working together to resolve the matter.”



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