U.S.: ‘Lack of Trust’ in Pakistanis Fueled Helo Disaster
On the surface, the direct cause of a deadly U.S. helicopter incident that prompted a crisis in relations with Pakistan was faulty mapping information and miscommunication. But the official investigation into the disaster strongly suggests that its real cause is the Pakistani military’s persistent habit of coordinating with insurgents more closely than with U.S. forces.
The investigating officer, Air Force Brig. Gen. Stephen Clark, a special-operations veteran of many helicopter missions, pinned a fair amount of blame on the Americans. “Our reliance on incorrect mapping information” helped result in “a misunderstanding about the true location of Pakistani military units.” Those bad maps were shared with a “Pakistani liaison officer” — a precaution taken to minimize friendly fire — but without the intention to deceive the Pakistanis, Clark found.
But there’s much more to the incident than that. Clark told Pentagon reporters on Thursday morning that a 120-man raiding team operating at night in a village one kilometer from the Pakistani border took heavy, accurate machine gun fire — which prompted the ground commander to call in a “show of force” from AC-130 gunships, Apache helicopters and F-15s overhead for the operation. But even after the aircraft fired flares, leaving “no doubt” that U.S. troops were in the area, the ground force continued to take fire, including from what Clark described as a nearby “ridge line” over the Pakistani border. The Apaches and the AC-130s opened fire on the ridge line at nearly midnight.