Mistakes by both American and Pakistani forces: NATO Reports

WASHINGTON: The US investigations into the Nov 26 border attack by Nato forces that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers has reportedly concluded that both US and Pakistan forces bear responsibility for the incident, The New York Times reported.

The report said: “Mistakes by both American and Pakistani forces led to airstrikes against Pakistani border posts that killed 24 Pakistani Army soldiers last month”.

Even though it spread blame between both countries, the key finding of the investigation is likely to further enrage Pakistan: that the airstrikes were ultimately justified because Pakistani soldiers fired first on a joint team of Afghan and American special operations forces operating along the often poorly demarcated frontier between Afghanistan and Pakistan, American and Western officials, who asked not to be identified because the report of the investigation had not yet been released, said Thursday.

The report says that the joint Afghan-American patrol, which was operating in a remote and mountainous area between the Afghan province of Kunar and the Pakistani tribal area of Mohmand, came under machine gun and mortar fire from at least one of the Pakistani border posts sometime around midnight on Nov. 26, American and Western officials said. The American official said the Afghan and American special operations forces believed they were being attacked by militants, at least initially, and called for air support.

Why the Pakistanis were firing remains unclear, the American official said. But in the days after the airstrikes, another American official in Washington provided part of an explanation: the Pakistanis apparently had intelligence that the Taliban was planning to attack the border posts and the Pakistani soldiers may have mistaken the Afghan and American troopers for militants.

The United States military report lends credence to that theory: the officials said it finds that NATO did not inform Pakistan that the operation on the border was taking place, and thus the Pakistani soldiers would not have known to expect allied forces near their posts. NATO and Pakistani forces are supposed to inform each other when launching operations on the border precisely to avoid the kind of mistake that took place on Nov. 26.

The second American mistake came when the airstrikes were called in. The Americans apparently gave the Pakistani Army the wrong coordinates that were to be struck by Apache attack helicopters and an AC-130 gunship, the officials said.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the Pakistanis cleared the strikes after getting the wrong coordinates. They have said they did not; regardless, the strikes began before their officers based at NATO coordination posts in Afghanistan had a chance to check with superiors in Pakistan, according to the Pakistani account of what took place.

But, as the report shows, even if Pakistan did clear the strikes, the posts still probably would have been hit because the Pakistanis had been given the wrong coordinates.

More damaging is the faltering military and counter-terror cooperation between Washington and Islamabad after a year of crises that began with the shooting of two Pakistanis by a CIA contractor in the city of Lahore. The two sides no longer conduct joint operations along the border, which they had started doing a few years ago, and intelligence-sharing on a range of threats from al Qaeda to lesser known Islamist militant groups has also fallen off, the American and Western officials said.

Another safeguard also failed, according to the report: Pakistan never told NATO it had established the border posts, which had been up for about three months, said a Western official in Kabul. Both sides are supposed to inform each other when setting up new positions along the border, another measure intended to avoid strikes against each other.