Pakistani Army Rejects U.S. Review Of Deadly NATO Airstrikes
RAWALPINDI, Pakistan -- The Pakistani army on Friday rejected key findings from a U.S. investigation into American airstrikes last month that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers and said the report was unlikely to repair the severely damaged relationship between the two countries.
The investigation – details of which were released Thursday – concluded that mistakes on both sides led to last month's deadly attack along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Pakistan has maintained its troops did nothing wrong and the attack was a deliberate act of aggression.
Pakistan refused to participate in the investigation, claiming past U.S. probes into border incidents were biased. It also retaliated against the attack by closing its border to NATO supplies meant for troops in Afghanistan and kicking the U.S. out of a base used to operate American drones.
Pakistan's response, while not surprising, is likely to worry Washington since the country's support is critical for the Afghan war. Pakistan not only provides a key route for supplies, but is important for peace negotiations with the Taliban.
Pakistani army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas rejected the report's claim that Pakistani troops fired at American and Afghan forces first, triggering the incident. He told The Associated Press in an interview Friday that Pakistani forces retaliated only after coalition helicopters "started engagement." He also denied that Pakistan failed to notify NATO of the location of the two border posts that were attacked.
Abbas expressed surprise and frustration that the U.S. refused to apologize for the deaths of the soldiers, something many Pakistanis have demanded. He rejected an American offer to pay compensation to the victims' families, saying the army has its own welfare system.
"Nobody is interested in compensation," he said. "It is not in our military culture to take money for a fallen soldier. It is abhorred. We will take care of our own," Abbas said.
U.S. officials on Thursday accepted some blame for the incident and expressed regret for the deaths, but said their troops acted "with appropriate force" in self-defense because they thought they were being attacked by Taliban insurgents.
Brig. Gen. Stephen Clark, an Air Force special operations officer who led the investigation, said in a Pentagon briefing that U.S. forces did not know that the two relatively new Pakistani outposts – spare structures constructed with stacked gray stones – had been set up on the border.
Abbas repeated the army's claim that Pakistan had given NATO maps that clearly marked the location of the two outposts – Volcano and Boulder – located on a mountain ridge in the Mohmand tribal area. He also said the Taliban do not use such structures.
"Taliban do not make posts," said Abbas. "No insurgents make posts. It is a running war against insurgents."
Abbas accused NATO and Afghan forces of "gross violations" of standard operating procedures, including not informing Pakistan that their forces would be conducting an overnight operation along the border on Nov. 25-26 when the attack occurred.
Clark acknowledged the U.S. had not informed Pakistan that American and Afghan commandos were conducting an operation. U.S. and NATO commanders believe that some of their military operations have been compromised when they've given details and locations to the Pakistanis, he said.
U.S. Marine Gen. John Allen, the coalition's top commander in Afghanistan, was in Pakistan meeting army chief Gen. Pervez Ashfaq Kayani at the time of the incident in an attempt to repair their relationship. Kayani had made the overture to Allen, inviting him to Pakistan.
Pentagon officials said Thursday that military leaders had spoken by phone with Kayani about the report's conclusions, but have not yet given him a detailed briefing.
Abbas accused U.S. and NATO forces of ignoring established rules of engagement aimed at avoiding friendly fire incidents. These rules demand troops under attack contact Pakistan to determine whether fire is coming from one of the country's outposts.
Abbas said Pakistan informed NATO forces in Afghanistan that the Volcano post has been hit, "but they kept firing and hit Boulder as well as the reinforcements going to help out the soldiers at Volcano."
Clark acknowledged U.S. forces failed to determine who was firing at them and whether there were friendly Pakistani forces in the area. Clark said U.S. forces used incorrect maps and mistakenly provided Pakistan with the wrong location where they said fighting was taking place – an area almost nine miles (14 kilometers) away.
Abbas gave no indication of when Pakistan might lift its embargo on NATO supplies to troops in Afghanistan. However, he indicated the government would levy additional fees when the route is eventually reopened.
"You can't use our port, destroy our roads and get away without paying for it," Abbas said.
The attack was the latest of a series of crises to strain the relationship between Pakistan and the U.S. this year. A CIA contractor shot and killed two Pakistanis in the eastern city of Lahore in January, setting off a storm of anti-American protests.
This anger was compounded by the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden in a Pakistani garrison town in May. The Pakistanis were outraged by the operation because they were not told about it beforehand.
Abbas said the future relationship between the Pakistani and U.S. militaries will likely be defined in a "very stern, formal way ... with well-defined limits of cooperation."
Abbot reported from Islamabad. Kathy Gannon is Special Regional Correspondent for The Associated Press in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Associated Press writer Lolita Baldor contributed to this report from Washington.