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Pakistan military group cancels U.S. visit after airport questioning

From Brian Todd and Dugald McConnell, CNN
A nine-member military delegation from Pakistan was asked to leave a plane at Dulles International Airport.
A nine-member military delegation from Pakistan was asked to leave a plane at Dulles International Airport.
  • Pakistani military officials were planning to meet with their U.S. counterparts in Florida
  • They were questioned at Dulles airport after a passenger became concerned
  • The delegation was escorted from the plane; United Airlines subsequently apologized
  • The Pakistani officers canceled their planned visit in protest

Washington (CNN) -- A delegation of Pakistani military officials decided to cancel a meeting this week with U.S. military officials in protest after they were taken off a plane and questioned at Washington's Dulles International Airport, according to a Pakistani official.

The nine-member delegation, including brigadier generals and at least one two-star navy admiral, were bound for a meeting at the U.S. military's Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida.

After they boarded a United Airlines flight in Washington on Monday en route to Tampa, a passenger on the flight expressed to the flight crew a concern about one of the members of the Pakistani delegation, according to the Pakistani official, who spoke to CNN but asked not to be identified. The delegation was escorted from the plane, the official said.

After some discussion, United Airlines agents sought to book the group on a flight the next day, the Pakistani official said. But the officers, after consulting with their commanders in Pakistan, decided to return home instead, in protest.

The Pakistani official said the Pakistani officer on the plane merely said words to the effect of, "I hope this is my last flight."

A spokeswoman from United Airlines declined to describe the airline's version of the incident, or respond to a claim in the Pakistani media that the officers were treated "like terrorists."

The airline said in a statement, "We recognize the inconvenience this caused, and we have apologized."

It was unclear whether the delegation was ever detained.

Pakistani officials have said they believe the officers were detained -- the Pakistani official who spoke with CNN said the officers were taken to a separate area inside Dulles airport and not allowed to telephone out. A United Airlines official said the airline does not know about any possible detention.

Contacted by CNN, a Transportation Security Administration spokesman said no one from that agency ever interacted with the Pakistani delegation. The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority did not return CNN's phone calls.

The planned meeting was described by a Central Command spokesman as an annual military "consultative committee" meeting, to coordinate security initiatives. CentCom hopes the meeting can be rescheduled, said Maj. David Nevers.

"It was an unfortunate incident involving the airline," said Pentagon spokesman Col. David Lapan. He said the incident did not directly involve the Department of Defense and, "There's been no official DoD apology."

In March, a delegation of Pakistani lawmakers said they were skipping a trip from Washington to New Orleans, Louisiana, rather than submit to the full-body scan they said airport screeners required of them. They were hailed as heroes in Pakistani media when they returned home.