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Page last updated at 08:14 GMT, Thursday, 12 June 2008 09:14 UK

US defends Afghan border strike

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Footage released by the Pentagon allegedly shows air strikes taking place

The Pentagon has said an air strike by US forces in the Afghan-Pakistani border region, said to have killed 11 Pakistani soldiers, was legitimate.

It said US forces had acted in self-defence after coming under attack in clashes with pro-Taleban militias.

The US state department described the deaths as regrettable, and said there was a need for better communication.

Pakistan's military said earlier that the soldiers had died as a result of an "unprovoked and cowardly act".

The Americans have released a video recording of the air strike, which it says proves that US forces were legitimately targeting pro-Taleban militants.

The US says that the video excerpts were shot by a surveillance drone circling above the mountainous battle zone.

Correspondents say that the grainy, monochrome images show a small group of men firing small arms and rocket-propelled grenades from a ridge at coalition troops - who are off camera in the valley below.

The Pakistani government has summoned the American ambassador to protest in person about the disputed attack.

The incident took place on Tuesday night at a border post in the mountainous Gora Prai region of Mohmand, one of Pakistan's tribal areas, across the border from Afghanistan's Kunar province.

The US military confirmed that its forces based on the Afghan side of the border had launched artillery and air strikes after coming under fire from pro-Taleban forces.

Pakistan and Afghanistan map

Eight Taleban militants were also killed in the clashes, a Taleban spokesman said.

The incident comes at a time of tension between Pakistan and the US over how to deal with militants in border areas, the BBC's Kim Ghattas reports from Washington.

A statement from coalition forces in Afghanistan made no reference to the Pakistani deaths

"Every indication we have at this point is that this was indeed a legitimate strike in defence of our forces after they came under attack," spokesman Geoff Morrell told reporters.

While the US military greatly valued its relationship with its Pakistani ally, he added, US forces were "within their rights to take the action they took".

Sovereignty

Expressing regret, the US state department said the incident was a reminder that "better cross-border communications between forces is vital".

The 11 Pakistani soldiers were being buried on Wednesday in the north-western city of Peshawar.

A Pakistani army statement said the incident had "hit at the very basis of co-operation" with the US.

Prime Minister Gilani condemned the deaths in parliament saying that Pakistan's sovereignty was at stake.

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Funerals have been held for the 11 soldiers who died

A spokesman for a pro-Taleban militant group in Pakistan said it had launched an attack on US and Afghan troops trying to set up a border control post.

In Peshawar, a relative of the one of those wounded in the fighting said that US troops had opened fire on both tribespeople and Pakistani soldiers.

"Then suddenly bomber aircraft came and started bombing," Seed Aman told The Associated Press.

Lawless border

There is increasing anger in Pakistan at US strikes on its territory which have killed more than 50 people this year, says the BBC's Barbara Plett in Islamabad.

Pakistani militants chant anti-US slogans in the Gora Prai area on 11 June
Reporters saw pro-Taleban militants in the area after the clashes

Taleban fighters have a strong presence in the border areas of the tribal districts and local administrators have little power there.

There is rising frustration among the Afghans and foreign troops at Pakistani efforts to negotiate peace deals with pro-Taleban militants on its side of the border.

Afghan and US-led forces accuse Islamabad of not doing enough to deny Taleban militants a hiding-place in Pakistan's tribal areas and to stop them from infiltrating the border.

They are worried that the Pakistan government's recent peace talks with the militants there will only give the Taleban more room for manoeuvre.

Pakistan denies the accusations, saying it has lost about 1,000 soldiers fighting militants in the tribal border areas.




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FROM OTHER NEWS SITES
ABC Online Tension in Pakistan - 1 hr ago
Boston GlobeBombing strains US-Islamabad ties - 1 hr ago
New York Times Pakistan Angry as Strike by U.S. Kills 11 Soldiers - 2 hrs ago
Washington PostU.S., Pakistan at Odds Over Air Strike - 2 hrs ago
Miami HeraldUS strikes undercut efforts on Pakistani border - 3 hrs ago
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