WASHINGTON: The American and Pakistani forces both are to be blamed for the November 26 Nato airstrike that left 24 Pakistani soldiers dead, revealed a United States investigation.
American and Western officials on the condition of anonymity told New York Times that retaliation from allied forces of US and Afghanistan was justified because the Pakistani forces initiated the fire.
The officials revealed that Nato did not inform Pakistan that they were about to launch an operation on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. This resulted in the Pakistani forces opening fire on them.
The Wall Street Journal said that the military investigation revealed that the US-led forces had presumed that no personnel from the Pakistani forces were present when they launched the operation.
A US military official also said that “the overarching issue that surrounds this incident is a lack of trust” between the US and Pakistan.
Revelations from the military probe, placing blame on both the US and Pakistani forces, could further enrage Islamabad as, since the incident, Pakistan has maintained that the move on its part was justified and that Pakistani forces did not fire the first shots.
The American and Western officials said that the US military investigation report also shunned the accusations from Pakistani forces were “intentionally and repeatedly” targeted by the allied forces on November 26.
The officials also revealed that the United States Central Command had planned not to release the findings from the investigation this week because they were still in the phase of deciding what parts of the investigation could be made public and which should remain classified.
In Washington last week, a Pakistan embassy official said Nato forces could not have mistaken the two border posts on the Afghan border for bases of the Taliban as they stood on high ground and had structures.
The Pakistani official had declined to speculate on the US motivations for any alleged deliberate attack.
Inadequate coordination, incorrect mapping caused NATO airstrike: DoD
The United States (US) Department of Defense’s (DoD) investigation into the airstrike on November 26 that led to the death of 24 Pakistani soldiers says “inadequate coordination by US and Pakistani military officers operating through the border coordination center,” including the US’ reliance on “incorrect mapping information shared with the Pakistani liaison officer — resulted in a misunderstanding about the true location of Pakistani military units.”
In a press release issued to announce the completion of the investigation into the airstrike, DoD said that there were other gaps in information as well about the units’ placement that led to this incident.
The Nato airstrike on November 26 on the Pak-Afghan border has led to a near breakdown in relations. Following the death of 24 Pakistani soldiers in the incident, Pakistan closed down Nato supply routes, asked US to vacate the Shamsi Airbase in Balochistan, and has demanded that the relationship be redefined.
According to the report, the US investigating officer found that the US forces acted in self defense, “given what information they had available at the time.”
The investigating officer found that the US forces had responded with “appropriate force after being fired upon.”
The report into the incident also says that “there was no intentional effort to target persons or places known to be part of the Pakistani military, or to deliberately provide inaccurate location information to Pakistani officials.”
The US Department of Defense says that the results of the investigation have been sent to the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan as well as to the key Nato leadership.
“For the loss of life — and for the lack of proper coordination between US and Pakistani forces that contributed to those losses — we express our deepest regret. 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,” said the Department of Defense.
The DoD has also said that they must work on improving the level of trust between US and Pakistan.
“Our focus now is to learn from these mistakes and take whatever corrective measures are required to ensure an incident like this is not repeated. The chain of command will consider any issues of accountability. More critically, we must work to improve the level of trust between our two countries. We cannot operate effectively on the border — or in other parts of our relationship — without addressing the fundamental trust still lacking between us. We earnestly hope the Pakistani military will join us in bridging that gap,” said the US DoD.
NATO says both sides committed mistakes, actions legitimate
Nato, while expressing its condolences to the families of those who lost their lives in the airstrike, says that their investigation has found that, “the combined international and Afghan force was initially fired upon by unidentified forces, then believed not to be Pakistani military, and legitimately responded in self-defence.”
“The investigation has ascertained that a series of mistakes were made on both sides in failing to properly co-ordinate their locations and actions, both before the operation and during the resulting engagement.”
Adding that the force did not knowingly fire at the Pakistani forces, Nato says “close air support was employed in self-defence in response to intense, heavy machine gun and mortar fire initiated by what turned out to be Pakistan forces near the border in the vicinity of Salala.”
Nato also says that after a review of its operational plan and communications, it did not knowingly target the Pakistani forces, and Nato’s actions were “legitimate within the Laws of Armed Conflict and within their Rules of Engagement.”
In its press release, Nato says that ISAF is reviewing the “manning, training, and certification of the Border Coordination Centres.
Nato added that they are working to improve liaison with the Pakistani forces, “we are determined to work harder to ensure these incidents do not occur.”
Earlier on Wednesday, on the issue of the NATO supply routes, Pentagon spokesperson Captain John F. Kirby told the Express Tribune, “To date, there has been no appreciable impact to logistics inside Afghanistan. Gen. Allen is confident that he can support the mission. That said, the supply routes through Pakistan are important, and we would certainly like them to re-open. That’s a decision only the government of Pakistan can make.”