Pakistan's army said Tuesday that its forces have orders to open fire if U.S. troops launch another raid across the Afghan border, raising the stakes in a dispute over how to tackle militant havens in Pakistan's unruly border zone.
Adm. Mike Mullen, the U.S. chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, arrived in Pakistan late Tuesday amid the increased tensions. Mullen planned to meet with top civilian and military leaders to discuss a range of issues, including ways to improve cooperation along the Pakistani-Afghan border.
Pakistan's government has faced rising popular anger over a Sept. 3 ground attack by U.S. commandos into South Waziristan, a base for Taliban militants killing ever more U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Pakistan says about 15 people were killed, all of them civilians.
The new firing orders were disclosed by Pakistani army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas on Tuesday.
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Abbas said Pakistani field commanders have previously been tolerant about international forces crossing a short way into Pakistan because of the ill-defined and contested mountainous frontier.
“But after the (Sept. 3) incident, the orders are clear,” Abbas said.
“In case it happens again in this form, that there is a very significant detection, which is very definite, no ambiguity, across the border, on ground or in the air: open fire.”
The statement was the strongest since Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Pakistan's army chief, raised eyebrows last week by vowing to defend Pakistani territory “at all cost.”
Rep. Gary Ackerman, Democratic chair of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on South Asia, and other lawmakers expressed concern about Abbas' comments at a hearing Tuesday to examine a Bush administration request to fund an upgrade of Pakistan's aging fleet of F-16 fighter planes.
Responding to the concerns, Donald Camp, deputy assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs, said: “I cannot envision a situation where we would find ourselves in a shooting situation with Pakistan.”
“We are partners with Pakistan. We have been close friends for years,” he said.