MIRANSHAH, Pakistan (AFP) — Pakistani tribal elders Tuesday raised the alarm over a build-up of hundreds of NATO-led troops on the Afghan side of the border, but the military downplayed fears of any intrusion.
The gathering of foreign troops came as Islamabad was under growing pressure from the United States to curb cross-border attacks by Taliban militants, with the US military chief flying into Pakistan at the weekend for urgent talks.
"We have heard there is a build-up of foreign troops," said Malik Mohammad Afzal Khan Darpakhel, a local tribal leader in North Waziristan who is not affiliated with the Taliban.
"We want to warn them that three million tribesmen will rise against them if they try to move in," Darpakhel told a news conference held by five elders in Miranshah, the main town in the region.
Intelligence sources said some 300 NATO soldiers equipped with tanks, armoured vehicles and heavy weaponry have been moved very close to Lwara Mundi, a border village in North Waziristan.
The village is also close to Camp Tillman, a US forward operating base in Afghanistan's Paktika province named after American footballer-turned soldier Pat Tillman, who was killed by friendly fire in 2004.
"They have not crossed into Pakistan but this is the first time that such a large number of foreign troops have come so close to the border," Darpakhel said.
A Pakistani military spokesman denied there was any unusual troop movement on the border. The spokesman said the NATO forces may be gathering for an operation on the Afghan side.
"There may be some operational movement of these forces in Afghanistan," the spokesman said.
Later US President George W.Bush said at a White House press conference that he was "troubled" by Islamic extremists moving from Pakistan to Afghanistan but said the new Pakistani government understands the danger.
He said there was "no question" that extremists are moving across the border.
"That's troubling to us. It's troubling to Afghanistan. And it should be troubling to Pakistan," he said. "We share a common enemy."
"I certainly hope that the (Pakistani) government understands the dangers of extremists moving in their country. I think they do," Bush said.
A spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan said there was no question of troops entering Pakistan.
"Our mandate stops at the border," spokesman Captain Mike Finney said.
There was some "extra activity" on the border with troops searching for surviving insurgents after Sunday's attack that killed nine US troops, he said.
But Pakistani tribal elders vowed to support the army in case of any incursion.
"We will protect every inch of our territory and we will support our army in fighting these foreign forces," said Darpakhel.
"We urge the tribesmen to clean up their weapons and be ready for jihad if foreign forces enter our area."
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