- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 11, 2008

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan | Pakistan’s military chief on Wednesday lashed out at the United States over cross-border raids by American troops from Afghanistan and said his country’s sovereignty will be defended “at all cost.”

In an unusually strong public statement, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani said a raid last week into Pakistan’s South Waziristan region killed innocent civilians and could backfire on the anti-terror allies.

He said such operations were covered by no agreement between Pakistan and U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan and risked stoking militancy in a region that Washington regards as an intolerably safe haven for al Qaeda and Taliban militants.

“Falling for short-term gains while ignoring our long-term interest is not the right way forward,” Gen. Kayani said, according to the statement released through the military’s media wing.

“To succeed, the coalition would be required to display strategic patience and help the other side the way they want it, rather than adopting a unilateral approach.”

Meanwhile, suspected Islamist militants killed at least 14 people in a gun and grenade attack on a mosque in Pakistan’s restive northwest on Wednesday, officials said.

“The attackers first lobbed grenades into the mosque and then opened fire with Kalashnikovs on the worshippers,” Bahadur Khan, the mayor of the village in Dir district of North West Frontier Province, told Reuters news agency.

Muslims are observing the fasting month of Ramadan, and the assailants struck while people were praying.

The Pakistan government already hauled in the U.S. ambassador in Islamabad to lodge a strong protest over a highly unusual raid by helicopter-borne ground troops into South Waziristan last week, which residents said killed about 15 people.

Officials have said the dead included civilians, though they acknowledged they had no firsthand information.

U.S. officials have confirmed that American troops carried out the operation, but provided no details. The objective and results of the mission remain unclear.

Together with a barrage of suspected U.S. missile strikes in Pakistan’s border zone, the raid indicates that Washington is getting more aggressive against militant targets beyond Afghanistan’s frontier, despite the political fallout in Pakistan, a key U.S. ally.

A U.S. missile strike Monday in the North Waziristan tribal region destroyed a seminary and houses associated with a veteran Taliban commander and killed 20 people, including some women and children as well as four foreign militants, officials said.

The tribal belt is considered a possible hiding place for Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahri.

Three Pakistani intelligence officials identified the foreign militants as Abu Qasim, Abu Musa, Abu Hamza and Abu Haris.

Abu Haris led al Qaeda efforts in the tribal areas, while Abu Hamza led activities in Peshawar, the main northwest city, according to the intelligence officials.

Two U.S. officials said the strike was carried out by the CIA. The American officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss CIA operations.

Gen. Kayani had maintained a low profile since taking over the pivotal position of army chief from U.S. ally and former coup leader Pervez Musharraf last year.

Political parties that won February elections forced Mr. Musharraf to quit as president last month. The military, which has dominated Pakistan for much of its 61-year history, has said it would follow the lead of the new civilian government.

But in a measure of the sensitivity surrounding U.S. military action on its soil, Wednesday’s statement contained Gen. Kayani’s first public criticism of American policy.

“The sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country will be defended at all cost and no external force is allowed to conduct operations inside Pakistan,” he said.

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