Pakistan Army Chief Criticizes US Raid

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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Pakistan's military chief on Wednesday lashed out at the United States over cross-border raids by American troops from Afghanistan and said his country's sovereignty will be defended "at all cost."

In an unusually strong public statement, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani said a raid last week into Pakistan's South Waziristan region killed innocent civilians and could backfire on the anti-terror allies.

He said such operations were covered by no agreement between Pakistan and U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan and risked stoking militancy in a region which Washington regards as an intolerably safe haven for al-Qaida and Taliban militants.

"Falling for short term gains while ignoring our long term interest is not the right way forward," Kayani said, according to the statement released through the military's media wing.

"To succeed, the coalition would be required to display strategic patience and help the other side the way they want it, rather than adopting a unilateral approach."

The Pakistan government already hauled in the U.S. ambassador in Islamabad to lodge a strong protest over a highly unusual raid by helicopter-borne grounds troops into South Waziristan last week which residents said killed about 15 people.

Officials have said they included civilians, though acknowledged they had no first-hand information.

U.S. officials have confirmed that American troops carried out the operation, but provided no details. The objective and results of the mission remain unclear.

Together with a barrage of suspected U.S. missile strikes into Pakistan's border zone, the raid indicates that Washington is getting more aggressive against militant targets beyond Afghanistan's frontier, despite the political fallout in Pakistan, a key U.S. ally.

A U.S. missile strike Monday in the North Waziristan tribal region destroyed a seminary and houses associated with a veteran Taliban commander and killed 20 people, including some women and children as well as four foreign militants, officials said.

The tribal belt is considered a possible hiding place for Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahri.

Three Pakistani intelligence officials identified the foreign militants as Abu Qasim, Abu Musa, Abu Hamza and Abu Haris. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of their jobs' sensitivity.

Abu Haris led al-Qaida efforts in the tribal areas, while Abu Hamza led activities in Peshawar, the main northwest city, according to the intelligence officials, who said they got the details from informants and agents in the field.

Two U.S. officials said the strike was carried out by the CIA. The American officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss CIA operations.

Kayani had maintained an impeccably low profile since taking over the pivotal position of army chief from U.S. ally and former coup leader Pervez Musharraf last year.

Parties which won February elections forced Musharraf to quit as president last month. The military, which has dominated Pakistan for much of its 61-year history, has said it will follow the lead of the new civilian government.

But in a measure of the sensitivity surrounding U.S. military action on its soil, even in the tribal belt where the state has minimal control, Wednesday's statement contained Kayani's first public criticism of American policy.

"The rules of engagement with the coalition forces are well defined" and foresee Pakistan alone taking action against militants inside its borders, Kayani said. "There is no question of any agreement or understanding with the coalition forces" that allows them to operate in Pakistan, he said.

The general defended Pakistan's policy of seeking reconciliation in its wild tribal belt. He insisted the army was committed to eliminating militants, but said it had to be sure of popular support.

"Reckless actions" which kill civilians "only help the militants and further fuel the militancy in the area," he said.

"The sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country will be defended at all cost and no external force is allowed to conduct operations inside Pakistan," he said.