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Cross-border fire from US-led coalition in Afghanistan kills 4 Pakistani civilians
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    ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan fired across the border into Pakistan, targeting what they said were militants associated with the Taliban’s most dangerous commander. The Pakistani army said four civilians were inadvertently killed in the incident.
    Troops responding to an ‘‘imminent threat’’ used ‘‘precision-guided munitions’’ to strike a compound about a mile inside Pakistan on Wednesday, said Maj. Chris Belcher, a spokesman for the American-led coalition forces in Afghanistan.
    Belcher acknowledged that the coalition informed the Pakistani government only after the strike. Pakistan lodged a strong protest with the coalition forces.
    ‘‘We received reliable intelligence indicating senior Haqqani Network members were in the compound at the time of the strike,’’ Belcher said Thursday from Kabul.
    Siraj Haqqani is a prominent Afghan militant. On Wednesday, a coalition statement accused Haqqani of organizing a suicide attack that killed two NATO soldiers and wounded dozens of civilians at an Afghan government office on March 3. It said Haqqani ‘‘has become the most dangerous Taliban leader in Afghanistan.’’
    It was not immediately clear whether the coalition forces fired from the ground or the air or what weapons were used. Precision-guided munitions could refer to missiles from a drone or aircraft. Belcher said he could not comment on what the threat was.
    Pakistan’s army, which has received billions of dollars from Washington to fight al-Qaida and the Taliban on its side of the mountainous frontier with Afghanistan, said the incident was an accident.
    Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said five artillery shells fired by coalition forces strayed into Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal region. One shell hit a home in the village of Kangrai, killing two women and two children, he said.
    Before the U.S. military acknowledged firing across the border, Abbas said the shells had inadvertently landed inside Pakistan.
    ‘‘They were engaging militants, but five shells landed over here,’’ he told The Associated Press. He was not immediately available to comment on the discrepancy between his account and the U.S. version.
    The incident could add to concern in Pakistan that its cooperation in the U.S.-led war on terror has fanned Islamic militancy manifesting itself in a wave of suicide bombings.
    Pakistan and Afghanistan share a long border that straddles rugged mountains and desert regions. Top al-Qaida commanders are believed to be hiding in the lawless tribal regions along the border.
    Pakistan has deployed some 90,000 troops to hunt down militants in its border regions. President Pervez Musharraf has sought to convince skeptical Pakistanis that they are fighting to preserve their own country, not just for America’s sake.
    But with violence escalating in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, many Pakistanis hope parties opposed to Musharraf who are set to form a new government will scale back military activities and seek dialogue with militant groups, whose influence has been growing.
    There have been several incidents in the past of coalition fire landing in Pakistani territory, drawing protests from Pakistani officials. Regular strikes by U.S.-led or NATO forces within Pakistani territory, particularly those which have caused civilian casualties, draw particular condemnation.
    Some incidents may be due to the poor demarcation of the long, rugged border. In June last year, a rocket fired during a battle between U.S.-led NATO forces and insurgents in Afghanistan struck a home in North Waziristan, killing 10 civilians.
    But there have also been several cases where unmanned U.S. drones have fired missiles at suspected militant hideouts in Pakistan’s border regions, including a strike in January that killed a senior al-Qaida commander.
    The mild condemnation from Pakistani authorities has led many to believe the drone strikes are carried out with Islamabad’s tacit blessing.
    Pakistan has called for better coordination between U.S. and Afghan military authorities in anti-militant operations to avoid civilian casualties and incidents of inadvertent fire landing inside its territory.
    Pakistan has captured hundreds of suspected al-Qaida and Taliban militants, including senior terror figures. But the Pakistani tribal regions are still believed to be the operating grounds for militants.
    Pakistani authorities blame militants operating in the tribal regions near Afghanistan for several suicide bombings that have killed scores of people in recent months, including opposition leader and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was killed Dec. 27 in a suicide and gun attack in the city of Rawalpindi.
    Associated Press Writer Alisa Tang contributed to this report from Kabul.

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