Thursday, 22 December 2011

US probe splits blame

The US military admitted Thursday that commanders in Afghanistan made serious mistakes during the deadly Nato cross-border airstrikes last month in which over two dozen Pakistani soldiers were killed, heightening tensions between Pakistan and the United States.
A Pentagon report on the Nov. 26 incident said investigators found that “inadequate coordination by US and Pakistani military officers,” and erroneous map information provided by Nato to Pakistani authorities, were to blame for the battlefield blunder. “US forces, given what information they had available to them at the time, acted in self-defence and with appropriate force after being fired upon,” the Department of Defence said in a statement Thursday. The American investigator “also found that there was no intentional effort to target persons or places known to be part of the Pakistani military.”
Pakistan has insisted its forces did nothing wrong, and that they certainly did not fire the first shots. Rather, senior Pakistani military and civilian officials have openly accused the United States of knowingly striking the border posts. Officials in Pakistan have said they will accept nothing short of a complete apology from President Barack Obama. In fact, senior Pakistani officials here said last week that Nato’s attack could not have been a mistake – and that the shooting by helicopter gunships that left 24 Pakistani soldiers dead continued for an hour after Nato forces said it would stop.
Their comments, at a Pakistan embassy news briefing for American journalists, came one week before US military officials released the results of their investigation into the incident.
Meanwhile, a top US general said that an “overarching lack of trust” between the US and Pakistan, as well as several key communication errors also contributed to the tragedy.
Brig. Gen. Stephen Clark, an Air Force special operations officer who led the investigation into the incident, said US 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 mistakes rooted in the fact that US and Pakistan do not trust each other enough to provide details about their locations and military operations along the border. As a result, US 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 apologise 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 coordination between US and Pakistani forces that contributed to those losses, we express our deepest regret,” Pentagon spokesman George Little told reporters.
He added that the US wants to learn from the mistakes and take any corrective measures needed to make sure such mistakes aren’t repeated.
“The message we’re trying to convey tonight is that there were some pretty serious breakdowns all around,” an American official was quoted as saying by the New York Times.
Based on the Defense Department’s statement and the accounts of American and Western officials who have seen the results of the investigation, the report lays out Washington’s counternarrative to the Pakistani accusations that their forces were intentionally and repeatedly targeted over the course of two hours after midnight on Nov. 26, the Times said. Some elements of the report confirm what Pakistani officials have been saying about the airstrikes, but others contradict the Pakistani account, said officials.
The conclusion is that both sides erred, according to the paper. “Inadequate coordination by US and Pakistani military officers operating through the border coordination centre — including our reliance on incorrect mapping information shared with the Pakistani liaison officer — resulted in a misunderstanding about the true location of Pakistani military units,” the Defence Department statement said.
“This, coupled with other gaps in information about the activities and placement of units from both sides, contributed to the tragic result,” it said without detailing what actually took place in the small hours of Nov. 26.
Meanwhile, General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, reached out to the head of the Pakistan Army, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, on the content of the investigation to which Pakistan had refused to participate.
In keeping with its practice in Afghanistan, the US is willing to offer solatia payments to the families of Pakistani soldiers killed in Nato strike last month, a Pentagon spokesman said on Thursday.
“In keeping with our normal practices in Afghanistan, the United States is willing to offer solatia payments as a sigh of our regret for the loss of life,” Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said.
“This is not necessarily a legal form of compensation, but it is a sign of regret for the loss of life,” Little said in response to a question, adding that an offer has to be made and accepted in accordance with the normal practice for payments be made to each of the 24 families.
He said the US had accepted responsibility for the “mistakes” and admitted “shortcomings” after a thorough investigation.
Earlier at a news conference, the Pentagon Press Secretary said the findings of the report would soon be shared with the Governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan, both of whom have already been briefed about it.
“General Dempsey has been in contact with General Kayani. They had a very professional and cordial conversation. It’s my understanding that General (James) Mattis (CENTCOM commander) has also reached out to General Kayani and that the Pakistanis will be briefed on the findings of the report,” Little said.
Earlier, the head of CENTCOM investigation refuted Pakistani allegations that the investigation is not credible and transparent.
“There’s nothing that is being withheld and the transparency certainly would have been facilitated greatly had Pakistan decided to participate in that,” said CENTCOM investigating officer Brigadier General Stephen Clark, who is Director of Plans, Programs, Requirements and Assessments, Air Force Special Operations Command Moderator.
He said it would have been beneficial to have the other perspective but the investigation did not get the benefit of Pakistan’s participation.
“I can’t say why they chose not to. I just know the fact that they did not participate in — in that portion of what we would have found out is obviously going to be missing from this report,” he noted.
“I had an Afghan major general with us as part of the team. He’s deputy commander of the border police with great familiarity with the area and other things going on there.
“If we’re trying to find out what occurred in total, that’s a significant element there that is missing, ‘cause there’s always two sides to a particular event, and perspectives,” he conceded.
“I very much regret that we did not have Pakistani participation,” he said.
Clark said the US was working hard to clarify a “complicated, convoluted situation” and was looking at the aspects of lack of understanding or confusion in the breakdown.

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