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U.S., NATO Deny Role In Attack On Pakistan Border


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne. We hear now about two developing stories in Pakistan. There are reports that U.S.-led forces from Afghanistan crossed the border early this morning and attacked a village in Pakistan's northwest tribal area.

More than a dozen people reportedly were killed, including women and children. Also today, gunman opened fire on the car belonging to Pakistan's prime minister. For more on both developments, we turn to NPR's Philip Reeves, who joins us from Pakistan's capital, Islamabad.

And Philip, let's start with what appears to be an assassination attempt on the prime minister.

PHILIP REEVES: Well, we know that shots were fired at the Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani's motorcade. We do know that. We know that it happened on the main highway leading to the international airport in Islamabad. We know his car was hit by at least two bullets. It is, of course, an armored car.

The question we're not clear any longer about is whether Prime Minister Gilani was actually in the vehicle. Initially, officials said that he was, but he wasn't hurt. Now a senior official says he wasn't in the car at all. However, it's obviously a serious incident.

You will recall there were several assassination attempts against General Pervez Musharraf when he was president and also against senior ministers of his government, and it's a reminder of how unstable this country is.

MONTAGNE: Well, and this assassination attempt or apparent one came hours after that reported attack in northwest Pakistan. What do you know about that?

REEVES: The picture, again, far from clear, not least because the international press has no access to the tribal belt bordering Afghanistan, but what we do know is that the governor of Pakistan's northwest frontier province, which abuts the tribal areas, says the attack involved commandos and three helicopter gunships from coalition forces based in Afghanistan.

He says the attack took place in a village in South Waziristan. He says about 20 Pakistani civilians, including women and children, were killed. Reports - or one report from the region, I should say - quotes one eyewitness saying the attack happened during darkness. The eyewitness says he heard choppers, he heard shooting, and later he says he saw 15 bodies inside and outside two buildings.

He alleges that they were civilians shot in the head. Other residents reportedly say that some people were detained and taken away, but as I should emphasize, these are early reports. The picture's still vague.

MONTAGNE: Now, the darkness would be pre-dawn darkness, and it's an area, it may be important to say, that's thought to where Osama bin Laden and his chief lieutenant might be hiding. What are U.S. military officials saying about these reports?

REEVES: Nothing so far. That, however, is generally the case when reports like this arise of attacks inside Pakistan by the U.S. military or its allies in Afghanistan.

MONTAGNE: Well, now, attacks though up until now have been unmanned drones. Whether they've happened or not, we have not heard of attacks by ground forces coming across the border into Pakistan.

REEVES: That's absolutely right. Drones or aircraft, but we've also not heard of anything in terms of a ground operation on this scale, and that's why this incident is likely to make a very big impact in Pakistan. There have been U.S. missile strikes, as you say, and there was a highly controversial incident this summer, when the U.S.-led forces of Afghanistan attacked a Pakistani border post, killing 11 Pakistani troops. That caused a furor here.

MONTAGNE: And just briefly, what has been the reaction so far from Pakistan?

REEVES: The strongest reaction has come from the governor of the northwest frontier province. He's described it as outrageous, a direct assault on Pakistan's sovereignty. And he's called on the Pakistani military to respond in what he describes as a befitting manner.

Pakistan's foreign ministry and the armed forces here both say they're investigating. Overall, the reaction is likely to be one of anger and indignation when the news story actually percolates through the society here. Generally, Pakistanis regard cross-border attacks by U.S. forces as a violation of their sovereignty, and they're highly controversial here.

MONTAGNE: Phil, thanks very much. NPR's Philip Reeves in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Morning Edition
Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.
Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.