, ISLAMABAD, Oct 7 – The US has apologised for a deadly helicopter strike on Pakistani soil in a move Washington hopes will encourage Islamabad to reopen a blocked NATO supply route to Afghanistan that has been repeatedly attacked by Taliban militants.
At least two Pakistani soldiers were killed in the incident last week when NATO choppers opened fire in a cross-border raid after mistaking them for militants.
Pakistan shut the main land route for NATO supplies into Afghanistan following the intrusion into its territory.
"We extend our deepest apology to Pakistan and the families of the Frontier Scouts who were killed and injured," US ambassador Anne Patterson said in a statement in Islamabad Wednesday.
"Pakistan\’s brave security forces are our allies in a war that threatens both Pakistan and the US."
But delicate relations between the two countries could be further strained by a White House report to Congress Wednesday which warned Pakistani forces were avoiding "direct conflict" with the Afghan Taliban and Al-Qaeda in the northwest tribal zone. Related article: US report criticizes Pakistani Al-Qaeda fight
The report said the Pakistani military had continued operations against insurgents in lawless South Waziristan, but added that soldiers stayed close to roads and that operations were progressing "slowly".
Washington will be hoping that Islamabad will accept its apology for the helicopter raid and reopen the Khyber border crossing, which is vital to supplying the 152,000 US and NATO troops in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban.
Around 100 NATO oil tankers and supply trucks have been destroyed in Taliban attacks over the past week since the border crossing was shut as the militants step up their efforts to disrupt supply routes into Afghanistan where the insurgency is now entering its 10th year since the October 7, 2001 invasion.
The Pakistani Taliban vowed more attacks to avenge a new wave of US drone strikes targeting Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants in northwest Pakistan linked to an alleged terror plot against European cities.
"We will further intensify attacks with the intensification of US drone strikes on us," Tehreek-e-Taliban spokesman Azam Tariq told AFP.
The United States has massively ramped up its drone campaign in the lawless tribal region on the Afghan border, which it calls the global headquarters of Al-Qaeda and the most dangerous place on Earth.
Eight people were killed Wednesday in the latest attacks by the pilotless planes against militants in North Waziristan tribal district.
A security official said five rebels were killed in a missile attack on a militant compound in Miranshah, the main town in North Waziristan.
Hours later at least three militants were killed in another drone strike on a house in Mir Ali, in the same area, security officials said.
Pakistan\’s ambassador in Washington, Hussein Haqqani, told the BBC that the increase in strikes in North Waziristan came after intelligence agencies uncovered the plot to "attack multiple targets in Europe".
He also said that a drone strike on Monday in the district which killed eight militants, including five Germans, was linked to the plot.
The Al-Qaeda plot reportedly targets Britain, France and Germany with a wave of commando-style attacks on key landmarks including Paris\’s Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame Cathedral and Berlin\’s Brandenburg Gate.
Officials in Washington say in the past drone strikes have killed a number of high-value targets including former Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud. However, the attacks fuel anti-American sentiment in the conservative Muslim country and Islamabad has condemned them as a violation of its sovereignty.
The cross-border helicopter attack last week put a further strain on relations between the allies.
The ambassador pledged that "the US will coordinate with the government of Pakistan to prevent such tragic accidents from taking place in the future".