A Pakistani investigation into the November 26 Nato air raid on a border post appears to have exonerated the United States and faulted an Afghan military commander for the unprovoked attack, the BBC reported.
The airstrike sparked outrage across the country – forcing the government to review its ‘terms of engagement’ with the United States in the war against terrorism.
The probe report – parts of which have been shared with Nato forces in Kabul – states that no US soldier was involved in the airstrike on the Salala check post in the Mohmand Agency that left two dozen border guards dead.
Investigators are convinced that an Afghan National Army (ANA) officer conspired with India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security in prompting the Nato airstrike, an officer privy to the probe told the BBC.
Islamabad has shared the evidence of his involvement with Nato, saying that the evidence warrants action against him.
Islamabad has long suspected that archrival India is using Afghan soil to foment trouble in Pakistan’s border regions.
The investigators interviewed local military commanders and evaluated ground evidence for their report.
According to the report, troops deployed at the Salala border post spotted the suspected men in a seasonal stream which, according to US intelligence, was used by the Taliban insurgents for sneaking into the Malakand division and Swat.
As per standard operating procedure (SOP), the Pakistani military commanders ordered fire. Minutes later, Nato helicopter gunships attacked the Pakistani post. It turns out that Pakistani troops had fired at ANA personnel patrolling the area. Investigators cite two reasons for the fire. First, the area was not within the patrolling jurisdiction of the ANA. And if needed, they were required to inform the Pakistani officials 72 hours before entering the region.
Second, the ANA patrol didn’t use SOP after receiving the fire. Instead, they appealed for a Nato air raid — even though local ANA commanders were aware of the location of the Pakistani border post in the region.
The ANA patrol was deliberately sent to the area under a conspiracy and then ‘Link 16’ which is normally used for huge operations against militants and extremists.
Pakistani investigators also blame Nato for negligence. According to them, the officer on duty in the control room ordered the airstrike, after receiving ‘Link 16’ and did not bother to check the location on the map which clearly shows that the area is in Pakistan and a security post is also located in the region.
The version of events as gleaned by the BBC from the probe report is disputed by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the media arm of the Pakistani military, which even called it ‘inaccurate.’
The ISPR also clarified a related report which gave the impression that border coordination centres were closed and that officers posted there had been recalled. According to the ISPR, few officers were called for consultations only and now they have gone back to the border coordination centres.
This came after a Nato official said in Kabul that Pakistan has restored liaison officers at coordination centres on the Afghanistan border. “We have seen liaison officers, Pakistani officers, return to border coordination centres, General Allen (the top Nato commander in Afghanistan) has spoken to (Pakistani army chief) General Parvez Kayani, so we are moving in the right direction,” Brigadier General Carsten Jacobsen, a spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force told reporters in Kabul.
with additional reporting from agencies
Published in The Express Tribune, December 20th, 2011.