NATO and US ground troops attacked three houses near a Taliban and Al Qaeda stronghold in South Waziristan, a tribal area in Pakistan, on Wednesday, Pakistani officials said. At least 15 people – mostly civilians – are said to have been killed in the attack. Unlike previous NATO airstrikes in the region, this involved the deployment of ground troops. The attack comes in the wake of the Pakistan military's announcement of a cease-fire with militants in the northern and tribal areas to observe the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
According to The New York Times, the attack has been confirmed by the governor of the North West Frontier Province, a Taliban commander, and eyewitnesses. US and NATO officials in Afghanistan have not yet commented on the reported strike.
The attacks were aimed at three houses in the village of Jala Khel in the Angoor Adda area of South Waziristan, less than a mile from the border with Afghanistan, the Taliban commander and local residents said.
The helicopter attacks occurred at about 3 a.m. and killed 20 people, according to the provincial governor, Owais Ahmed Ghani said....
A Taliban commander, known by the nom de guerre Commander Malang, said the attack took place close to a Pakistani military position on the border and killed 15 people. But the Pakistani military took no action, he said.
The BBC reports that ground troops were deployed as part of the attack. The report emphasizes that while airstrikes by coalition forces in Afghanistan against Pakistani militant targets have previously occurred, "a raid by ground troops would be rare."
Locals say three helicopter gunships dropped international troops in the Musa Nikeh area of South Waziristan, located on the border with Afghanistan, overnight.
They say the soldiers killed more than a dozen people with gunfire and bombs, including women and children.
"Troops came in helicopters and carried out action in three houses," Gul Nawaz, a shopkeeper, told Reuters news agency.
Witnesses told the BBC Urdu service that troops entered the house of a local tribesman, opened fire and then lobbed a bomb in the house. They said at least nine bodies had been recovered from the debris. The witnesses said the family was not known for links with militants.
According to a private Pakistani cable channel, local tribesmen, who were awake at the time of the attack to prepare for the day's fast, responded by chanting anti-American slogans, reports United Press International.
Pakistan Defense Minister Ahmed Mukhtar told reporters in Lahore that the country's foreign office is investigating.
He says he does not have details. Mukthar says three houses were targeted by NATO forces and theorizes the strike had a specific target.
The United States and Pakistan, allies in the war on terror, have had tensions over cross-border attacks, including a series of suspected American missile strikes which have killed two senior al-Qaida operatives in Pakistani territory this year....
AP reported last year that U.S. rules of engagement allowed ground forces to go a little over six miles into Pakistan when in hot pursuit, and when forces were targeted or fired on by the enemy. U.S. rules allow aircraft to go 10 miles into Pakistan air space.
Pakistani officials protest that cross-border strikes are a violation of their sovereignty. They plead with U.S. and NATO commanders to share intelligence and allow Pakistani troops to carry out all raids on their territory.
In a separate incident on Wednesday, bullets were fired at the motorcade of Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on the Islamabad Highway, reports Pakistani daily The News. The prime minister and his entourage were not harmed in the attack. The News also reports that militants from the Swat Valley, the site of recent military operations, have claimed responsibility for the attack.