- (Photo: Reuters/ISPR/Handout)
Pentagon announced Thursday that it has concluded the investigation of a deadly NATO airstrike on its border that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers on Nov. 26 and led to strained relations with the United States.
The Department of Defense extended condolences in regard to the deaths.
“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,” officials said in a statement published on the department’s website. “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.”
The investigation found that U.S. forces “acted in self defense and with appropriate force after being fired upon,” given what information they had available at the time, U.S. officials said. However, the Pentagon admitted that there was “inadequate coordination by U.S. and Pakistani military officers operating through the border coordination center.”
The "inadequate" coordination involved U.S. reliance on incorrect maps shared with the Pakistani liaison officer, resulting in a “misunderstanding” about the location of Pakistani forces. The officials also admitted to “gaps in information” about the activities and placement of military units on both sides of the border, which contributed to the “tragic result.”
There was no intentional effort to target the Pakistani military, or to deliberately provide inaccurate location information to Pakistani officials, the statement insisted.
U.S. authorities said that results of the investigation have been shared with the Pakistani and Afghan governments, as well as key NATO leadership.
The Associated Press reported that it has learned directly from a Pentagon representative that the confusion might have stemmed from "the fact that U.S. and Pakistan do not trust each other enough to provide details about their locations and military operations along the border." As a result, U.S. forces thought they were under attack from enemy insurgents on the night in question, the agency reported.
“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,” Pentagon officials said in a statement.
“More critically, we must work to improve the level of trust between our two countries," officials said. "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.”
Since the airstrike, the Pakistani government has shut down NATO supply routes to Afghanistan and thrown the U.S. out of its Shamsi airbase in southwestern Baluchistan province, AP reported. The base was used to maintain drones deployed in strikes against insurgents hiding in Pakistan's Afghan frontier. The Pakistani border closure forced the U.S. and NATO forces to reroute their entire logistics chains.
Some experts think that at least part of the blame for the attack lies on the Pakistani side.
Ryan Mauro, a national security analyst and founder of WorldThreats.com, told The Christian Post that the airstrike would not have happened if Pakistan did not allegedly actively harbor and support terrorists who are trying to kill U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan -- an issue he described in an article on the subject.
"It is not publicly known if the NATO helicopter was fired upon by Pakistani soldiers located in the border post or terrorists sheltered in or near the post," Mauro told CP Thursday. "There are many cases of terrorists firing rockets into Afghanistan from positions near the border posts, and terrorists regularly assemble near the Pakistani military. It is very hard to believe that the Pakistanis are not, at the very least, allowing them to attack."
NATO, Afghanistan and Pakistani forces reportedly use the joint border control centers to share information and coordinate security operations..