Report Blames Both U.S. and Pakistan for Deadly Errant Airstrike
Mistakes by both American and Pakistani troops led to airstrikes against Pakistani posts on the Afghanistan border that killed 26 Pakistani Army soldiers last month, according to a Pentagon investigation that for the first time acknowledged some American responsibility for the clash, which plunged the already frayed relationship between the United States and Pakistan to a new low.
But two crucial findings — that the Pakistanis fired first and that the Americans fired back in self-defense after repeatedly warning that Pakistanis they were shooting at allied troops — were likely to further anger Pakistan.
In an early-morning statement on Thursday and later at a Pentagon briefing, the Defense Department said three separate American airstrikes over more than an hour around midnight on Nov. 26 were justified because Pakistani soldiers opened fire on a joint team of Afghan and American Special Operations forces operating along the often poorly demarcated frontier between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“U.S. forces, given what information they had available to them at the time, acted in self-defense and with appropriate force after being fired upon,” George Little, a Department of Defense spokesman, told reporters in Washington. The American inquiry “also found that there was no intentional effort to target persons or places known to be part of the Pakistani military.”
Pakistan has insisted its forces did nothing wrong, and that they certainly did not fire the first shots. Rather, senior Pakistani military and civilian officials have openly accused the United States of intentionally striking the border posts, even after Pakistani officers called their counterparts to complain their outposts were under allied attack. Officials in Pakistan have said they will accept nothing short of a complete apology from President Obama.
The Defense Department statement included an apology of sorts, though it did not appear to go as far as Pakistani officials have demanded. “For the loss of life — and for the lack of proper coordination between U.S. and Pakistani forces that contributed to those losses — we express our deepest regret,” it said. “We further express sincere condolences to the Pakistani people, to the Pakistani government, and most importantly to the families of the Pakistani soldiers who were killed or wounded.”
Maj. Gen Athar Abbas, a spokesman for the Pakistan armed forces, said in a text message: “Pak Army does not agree with the findings of the US/NATO inquiry as being reported in the media. The inquiry report is short on facts. Detailed response will be given as and when the formal report is received.”