WASHINGTON—A top U.S. general said Thursday that an “overarching lack of trust” between the U.S. and Pakistan, as well as several key communication errors, led to the NATO airstrikes last month near the Afghan border that killed two dozen Pakistani troops.
Brig. Gen. Stephen Clark, an Air Force special operations officer who led the investigation into the incident, says U.S. forces used the wrong maps, were unaware of Pakistani border post locations and mistakenly provided the wrong location for the troops.
Clark described a confusing series of gaffes rooted in 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 on that dark, Nov. 26 night thought they were under attack, believed there were no Pakistani forces in the area, and called in airstrikes on what they thought were enemy insurgents.
The Pentagon did not apologize for the action, as Pakistan has demanded, and has not briefed Pakistani leaders on the results of the investigation, which were released Thursday.
“For the loss of life and for the lack of proper co-ordination between U.S. and Pakistani forces that contributed to those losses, we express our deepest regret,” Pentagon spokesman George Little told reporters.
He added that the U.S. wants to learn from the mistakes and take any corrective measures needed to make sure such mistakes aren’t repeated.
Meanwhile, Pakistani military rejected the conclusions of the U.S. investigation into the airstrike.
Pakistani army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said Pakistan does not agree with the U.S findings because they are “short on facts.”
NATO, Afghanistan and Pakistani forces use the joint border control centres to share information and co-ordinate security operations.
Pakistani officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the report. Afghan officials also had no immediate comment.
The Pakistani military has said it provided NATO with maps that clearly showed where the border posts were located.
Since the Nov. 26 attack, a furious Pakistani government has shut down NATO supply routes to Afghanistan and thrown the U.S. out of its Shamsi Air base in southwestern Baluchistan province. The base was used to maintain drones deployed in strikes against insurgents hiding in safe havens in Pakistan’s lawless tribal belt on the Afghan frontier.
The Pakistani border closure forced the U.S. and NATO to reorient their entire logistics chains to the so-called Northern Distribution Network through Russia and Central Asia.
For most of the 10-year war in Afghanistan, 90 per cent of supplies shipped to the international force came through Pakistan, via the port of Karachi. But over the past three years, road and rail shipments from NATO’s European members via Russia and the Central Asian nations have expanded, and before the border incident accounted for more than half of all overland deliveries.