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NATO attack in Pakistan was 'self-defense,' says US

The Pakistani government strongly condemned a series of manned airstrikes on Pakistani soil, including two NATO attacks that officials say killed about 55 suspected insurgents over the weekend.

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"This should be considered a watershed event," asserted Mehmood Shah, an analyst who served as the top security official for Pakistan's tribal area. "Our units should be deployed to fire upon them. This border has sanctity. NATO must realize they have a mandate to operate in Afghanistan, not in Pakistan."

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The helicopter attacks could increase the pressure on Pakistan's governing coalition, which is deeply unpopular because of its close US ties, widespread corruption and its slow, inadequate response to the country's recent devastating floods.

Marvi Memon, an opposition Parliament member, said she plans to raise the issue in the legislature.

"Self-defense is no excuse for violating Pakistani airspace and thus, our sovereignty," she said.

Afghan officials have long accused Islamabad of allowing Al Qaeda-linked Afghan insurgent groups to maintain sanctuaries inside the tribal areas as part of a plan to replace the US-backed government in Kabul with a pro-Pakistan administration.

Islamabad rejects the charge, and points to military operations that it's undertaken against militant sanctuaries, although those offensives have targeted Pakistani extremists, not Afghan insurgents.

US commanders privately complain that Pakistani security forces often do nothing to prevent insurgents from launching attacks on Afghan territory from the tribal area or from infiltrating Afghan territory.

Petraeus' comment was the most explicit to date by a senior US official suggesting that contacts are taking place between Karzai and top Taliban leaders, who are thought to be based in Pakistan. Kabul previously has acknowledged discussions with a separate militant group, Hezb Islami.

"Now President Karzai's conditions are very clear, very established, and, certainly, we support them as we did in Iraq, as the British did in Northern Ireland," he said. "This is the way you end insurgencies."

Karzai has said he's prepared to make peace with insurgents who renounce violence, accept the Afghan Constitution and reject Al Qaeda.

Waheed Omar, a spokesman for Karzai, said that contacts "at different levels of the Taliban" had been going on "for weeks, if not months." However, he said those now in contact can't be characterized as the movement's senior leaders.

(Shah, a McClatchy special correspondent, reported from Islamabad. Special correspondent Hashim Shukoor contributed to this article.)

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