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Pakistan Tells U.S. To Keep Out

Pakistani troop hold his weapon as he patrols the troubled Bajour agency, Pakistan, Friday, Sept. 26, 2008. (AP Photo/Aamir Qureshi, Pool)
AP Photo/Aamir Qureshi, Pool
Pakistan warned the U.S. not to stray across the Afghan border into its territory after a gunbattle between the anti-terror allies that was praised by tribesman as a victory against Washington.

As if to underline the point that Pakistan can beat al Qaeda and Taliban militants without American firepower, a top general said Friday an offensive in another frontier province had killed more than 1,000 suspected insurgents and predicted the region would be "stabilized" within two months.

Still, he also showed reporters photos of militant tunnel systems and trenches in Bajur, suggesting more tough fighting ahead in an area that is considered a likely hiding place for Osama bin Laden and other top al Qaeda leaders.

The violence that is roiling the Muslim, nuclear-armed nation showed no sign of letting up following last weekend's truck bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad that killed 53 people.

Pakistan's new civilian government is under mounting U.S. pressure to crack down on militants, especially those sheltering in the border area where they are believed to plan attacks on coalition troops in Afghanistan.

In recent months, Washington has launched a flurry of missile strikes and a ground assault on targets within Pakistan, infuriating both ordinary Pakistanis and their leaders.

In one of the most serious incidents yet between the two sides, U.S. helicopters and Pakistani ground troops briefly traded fire Thursday on the border.

The aircraft were not hit and no one was hurt.

U.S. Central Command spokesman Rear Adm. Greg Smith said the helicopters had been escorting U.S. troops and Afghan border police. When the helicopters were fired on, the ground forces fired rounds meant not to hit the Pakistani troops, but "to make certain that they realized they should stop shooting," Smith said from Centcom headquarters in Florida.

The Pakistani forces fired back during a skirmish that lasted about five minutes. The joint patrol was moving about a mile inside Afghanistan, with the helicopters flying above, Smith said.

The Pakistani military disputed the U.S. version, saying its troops fired warning shots when the two helicopters crossed over the border - and that the U.S. helicopters fired back.

Pakistani government spokesman Akram Shaheedi urged U.S.-led coalition forces "not to violate (the) territorial sovereignty of Pakistan as it is counterproductive to the war on terror."

But Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari struck a more conciliatory note on Friday during a brief appearance alongside U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in New York.

"I look at U.S. support as a blessing. I look at the world support as a blessing to Pakistan," Zardari said.

In Washington, Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Pakistani military leaders reassured him last week that they have no intention of using force against U.S. troops along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

Mullen said he has no reason to believe the Pakistan-U.S. relationship has changed as a result of Thursday's border clash.

The clash - the first serious exchange with Pakistani forces acknowledged by the U.S. - drew praise from fiercely anti-American tribesman in the region.

"Pakistan should have reacted against the Americans like this earlier," said Mushtaq Khan. "They started late, but still it is a welcome step."