- The Washington Times - Monday, January 6, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 6 (UPI) — Pakistan and the United States have agreed that hot pursuits of suspected Taliban and al Qaida fighters across the Pakistan-Afghan border will continue but quietly, diplomatic sources told United Press International Monday.

Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell have spoken twice since Dec. 29 when a clash between U.S. and Pakistani troops in the South Waziristan tribal agency strained relations between the two allies.

They have agreed that troops on the ground would react according to the situation but neither side would issue a statement without consulting the other, the sources said.

"This means that if a situation requires a hot pursuit, it will be done but there will be no angry remarks from either side, as we saw after the Dec. 29 incident," said a Washington-based diplomat.

In Pakistan, the clash caused angry protests in several cities against the U.S. forces while U.S. military officials insisted they reserved the right to cross the border while pursuing fugitives.

Al Qaida and Taliban fighters are believed to freely cross the porous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, a key U.S. ally in the war on terror. U.S.-backed forces toppled Afghanistan's Taliban in November 2001and since then U.S. and Pakistani troops have pursued remaining elements of the militia and its al Qaida backers.

Al Qaida is believed to be responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington that killed some 3,000 people.

The man who apparently caused the Dec. 29 encounter — a soldier of the Pakistani border scout — is in Pakistan's custody along with two others who also exchanged fire with U.S. troops, the sources said.

An American soldier, who was injured in the fight, was removed to a U.S. military hospital in Germany and has been released from hospital care.

"The way the incident was reported in the media caused some angry reactions in Pakistan," a diplomatic source told UPI. "Otherwise, there's nothing new about these hot pursuits."

He said both U.S. and Pakistani forces have crossed the border in the past as well.

"The Americans have their men on the Pakistani side and the Pakistanis have their men on the Afghan side," he said. "There're Pakistani military officials even at Bagram Air Base near Kabul."

The clash, the sources said, was caused because of a misunderstanding about an outpost in South Waziristan. Some maps show the post in Pakistan while others place it in Afghanistan.

The Pakistani soldier, who opened fire at an American patrol, is believed to have told his interrogators that he challenged the Americans when he saw them approaching the post because he thought they were entering his jurisdiction.

But the Americans, who believed they were on the Afghan side, asked the soldier to retreat. Since he was armed, they also pointed their weapons at him, a standard military practice in such situations.

The soldier says he got nervous and opened fire. When the Americans fired back, he rushed to a nearby abandoned school where two other soldiers joined him.

As the fighting intensified, the Americans called for air support and a U.S. helicopter dropped a 500-pound bomb on the abandoned building. The soldiers had left the compound before the bomb was dropped and were later arrested with the help of a Pakistani team that came to disengage the two sides.

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