Washington, Sept 26 : The US and Pakistani troops exchanged fire along the Pak-Afghan border last evening, after Pakistanis reportedly fired shots at two American helicopters which, Pakistan claimed, had crossed into its border.
A top American military official said that the two American "OH-58 Kiowa" reconnaissance helicopters were not damaged and no casualties were reported.
American and NATO officials said that the two helicopters were flying about one mile inside Afghan airspace to protect an American and Afghan patrol on the ground when the aircraft were fired at by Pakistani troops stationed at a military checkpoint near the Tanai district in Khost Province. Small-caliber arms were used, added the officials.
In response, the American ground troops shot short bursts of warning fire, which almost hit the checkpoint, and the Pakistanis fired back, said Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, a spokesman for the US Central Command based in Afghanistan.
On the other hand, a Pakistani Army spokesman Athar Abbas said that Pakistani forces fired "warning shots" at the choppers after they crossed into Pakistan's territory in the area of Saidgai, in the Ghulam Khan region of North Waziristan. "On this, the helicopters returned fire and flew back. The general's statement did not address the account of ground fire," the New York Times quoted the spokesman as saying.
Local residents claimed that one of the two US helicopters had entered inside Pakistan territory by about a mile, while the other hovered on the Afghan side of the border. "When our forces fired warning shots, we were a little scared of a possible retaliatory fire from the helicopters. But, we were happy to see the helicopter flying back into Afghanistan. We were happy that our forces fired at the helicopter," said Hajji Said Rehman Gorbaz, a local.
Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari said that the (Pakistan) military had fired only flares at the helicopters, seeming to draw a distinction with warning "shots," which usually refers to bullets or other ordnance that could more seriously damage the helicopters. "They are flares," Zardari said during his meeting with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at the UN. He said the flares would alert the pilots that they had crossed the border, which he said is rugged and poorly marked.
Condoleeza agreed that the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan was "very, very unclear."