U.S. Special Operations Forces conducted a bold and unprecedented raid inside Pakistan early this morning on a suspected terrorist compound near the border with Afghanistan, U.S. and Pakistani officials told ABC News.
U.S. officials refused to say anything publicly about the raid, the first by Western forces inside Pakistan's tribal regions, but privately called it a successful operation. The Pakistan government called it "a gross violation of Pakistan's territory."
The raid was conducted at 3 a.m. local time by a Special Operations unit of about 40 troops operating on the ground and in the air, U.S. officials told ABC News. The officials described it as a successful operation but would not say specifically who was targeted.
According to one military official, a small number of militants was captured and several others killed.
Residents of the town of Angoor Ada, located in Pakistan's South Waziristan region, reported seeing Western troops pouring out of at least two helicopters, raiding three homes and killing 19 people, including women and children. A Pakistani military spokesman said seven civilians were killed.
U.S. officials dispute those reports but won't say who was targeted or how many were killed.
In a written statement, the Pakistani Foreign Ministry condemned the attack, calling it "unacceptable" and "a grave provocation … which has resulted in immense loss of civilian life."
U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson was called into the Foreign Ministry office in Islamabad for what Pakistani officials called "a strong diplomatic protest."
"Such actions are counterproductive and certainly do not help our joint efforts to fight terrorism," the Pakistani Foreign Ministry statement said. "On the contrary, they undermine the very basis of cooperation and may fuel the fire of hatred and violence that we are trying to extinguish."
Later in the day today, Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Gilani survived a crude assassination attempt when "multiple snipers" shot at his motorcade as it traveled between the capital, Islamabad and neighboring Rawalpindi, according to a statement released by his office.
U.S. officials refused to say anything publicly about the raid. Asked about the Pakistani allegations, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters in Washington, "I don't have anything for you on Pakistan, except to say that obviously we are working very closely with the civilian government there."
Missile Attacks on Suspected Terrorists Common Here
Unmanned U.S. aircraft often patrol the skies over the tribal areas and launch almost weekly missile strikes against what Washington says are militant hideouts. And American troops occasionally enter Pakistan from Afghanistan while in hot pursuit of militants fleeing across the border.
But the Pakistani military said today that Western forces had never before landed helicopters and conducted an operation inside Pakistan.
The United States and Afghanistan have been urging Pakistan to do more to confront the militants in the tribal areas, where al Qaeda, the Taliban and affiliated groups have launched repeated attacks on western troops in Afghanistan.
It is also the area from which the Taliban have launched suicide attacks across Pakistan, helping destabilize this nuclear-armed country as it copes with one of the worst economies in its history and a volatile political situation.
"The Pakistani Taliban have the capacity to launch bomb attacks, suicide attacks in all the major cities, and against all targets -- the army, the police, business, schools, etc," said Ahmed Rashid, author of "Descent into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia."
"It's showing the government to be helpless, it's showing up the government's lack of policy, lack of strategy, and it's showing up the army also," Rashid said.
There is a great fear in Pakistan that the United States will become more aggressive in the tribal areas, launching its own major operations where it believes Pakistan's frontier corps is not battling hard enough to defeat the militants along the border.
The attack today came just days after Pakistan announced that during the holy month of Ramadan it would have a moratorium on military actions against militants in another tribal region, Bajour, which is north of South Waziristan.
Residents Describe U.S. Attack
Habib Khan Wazir, who lives near Angoor Ada, told The Associated Press he heard helicopters, followed by an exchange of fire.
"Later, I saw 15 bodies inside and outside two homes. They had been shot in the head," he said. "There was darkness at the time when the Americans came and killed our innocent people. ... We would have not allowed them to go back alive if they had come to our village in daylight."
Habibullah Khan contributed to this report.