Pakistani officials: NATO apologized as it fired

AP News
Posted: Dec 15, 2011 4:32 PM
Pakistani officials: NATO apologized as it fired

Pakistani officials say U.S. forces knew they were opening fire on Pakistani forces, and even apologized to Pakistani officers, throughout the friendly fire incident that killed 24 Pakistani troops near the Afghan border in November.

The rare Pakistani Embassy briefing on Thursday offered little new beyond what has been reported in Pakistan on the November incident, but it put the Pakistani version of events front and center, ahead of the results of NATO's official investigation due out next week.

Pentagon officials refused to comment on the Pakistani account, saying they will not speak until their own investigation is complete.

One new element was the alleged apology offered by the NATO officer in charge to his Pakistani liaison officer counterpart, at the NATO border outpost where such incidents are supposed to be managed and avoided.

The Pakistanis say the NATO officer apologized for relaying the wrong coordinates of the location NATO planes were about to fire upon. The error meant that the Pakistanis could not warn NATO forces that they were about to fire on a friendly post.

The officer apologized again, according to the Pakistanis, for the continued fire on the two remote outposts. The attack was in support of a nearby U.S.-Afghan joint patrol that thought it was under fire from Taliban militants.

The deadly incident briefly severed military coordination between the two sides. It's also further complicated an already fractured political relationship and again angered the Pakistani public, which was made furious by the U.S. Navy SEALs raid into Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden last May.

Pakistan's army Chief Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani has re-established contact with U.S. Marine Gen. John Allen, the coalition's top commander in Afghanistan, but two border posts used to ferry NATO supplies into Afghanistan remain shut in protest.

U.S. officials believe confusion and miscommunication between a joint US-Afghan patrol and the Pakistani border posts led to the deaths in November.

Pakistani officials at the embassy briefing _ they declined to allow their names to be used _ said the Pakistani investigation found that continued fire by U.S. attack helicopters and an AC-130 gunship, even after NATO had acknowledged it was firing on the two Pakistani border posts, proved that NATO troops intended to kill their troops.

Pakistan refused to take part in the NATO investigation, the officials said, because its cooperation in three previous deadly border incidents yielded no new information, nor punishment of anyone on the NATO side for wrongdoing.

The officials walked the assembled reporters through a painstaking recreation of the incident from the Pakistani army's point of view, with Powerpoint charts, maps, photographs and information drawn from interviews with surviving troops and residents in the mountainous area.

Photos of the bases _ Volcano and Boulder posts _ show barebones, roofless posts made of stacked stones and sandbags, built on two exposed ridges, roughly 300 yards inside the Pakistan border.

A slide titled "Mistaken Identity Not Possible" detailed the numerous ways NATO and the Pakistanis keep track of each other at the border, including NATO's monitoring of the Pakistani border posts' radio transmissions, which were frantically reporting being under fire by NATO aircraft.

The Pakistanis say the incident began when Volcano base took fire from U.S. aircraft at roughly 15 minutes past midnight and reported it was under attack. The Pakistani liaison then immediately reported to his U.S. counterparts at border coordination post Nawa, on the Afghan side of the border.

Yet the attacks continued, the senior Pakistani defense official said, so the second Pakistani base, Boulder, opened fire on the NATO aircraft to try to protect the first _ so the aircraft engaged the second base as well. With communication with both posts lost, the commanding officer ran up the hill with a rescue team and was also killed, the official said. Another would-be Pakistani army rescue force was pinned down when it tried to approach.

During this nighttime firefight, NATO communicated at roughly 1:15 a.m. to the Pakistanis that NATO commanders realized they were attacking a Pakistani base and had been ordered to stop, the official said. Yet the Pakistanis say the attack continued until almost 2:20 a.m.

An early, rough account of the American version of events indicates the U.S.-Afghan patrol thought it was under fire from militants just after midnight. The U.S. account said the patrol checked with the Pakistani military at the outset, and was assured there were no friendly troops in the area. The Pakistani military says the coordinates given were actually nine miles north of the posts and subsequent firefight.

U.S. records show the aerial response included Apache attack helicopters and an AC-130 gunship, though it's unclear from the battlefield report when the bombardment started or ended.

In an earlier Pakistani version of events, Pakistani border sentries heard suspicious activity about 12:15 a.m. when the U.S.-Afghan patrol first reported contact with the Taliban. The Pakistani post fired flares to illuminate the area, and then followed that with small arms fire after spotting movement in the brush near their camp.

Flares sound much like mortar fire, the type reported by the U.S.-Afghan patrol as their first contact with the Taliban.


AP Intelligence Writer Dozier can be followed on Twitter (at)kimberlydozier.