US Takes Some Blame in Deadly Pakistan Friendly Fire Incident


Pakistani Account Differs From U.S. Account

The Pakistani military declined the American military's invitation to participate in the investigation, so the report only reflected information provided by the U.S. and Afghanistan military officials. But Clark admitted he did not take into account any of the multiple briefings that Pakistani military officials gave to the media in both Islamabad and Washington. He did not even know, for example, that the second Pakistani outpost hit by NATO helicopters was named Boulder.

The Pakistani military's account differs fundamentally.

Before the attack began, according to the Pakistani military accounts, a U.S. soldier at a Border Coordination Center handed over coordinates to his Pakistani colleagues from which he said the U.S./Afghan team was taking fire. Those coordinates were ten miles north of Volcano, according to the Pakistani military. Just as the Pakistani officers were reviewing the coordinates, the attack began. Moments later, a NATO officer "apologized for sending incorrect coordinates and confirmed that NATO helicopters had actually attacked" Volcano, according to a written account provided to Congress by Pakistan's lobbying firm in Washington, Locke Lord Strategies.

During the attack, according to the Pakistani account, soldiers from a nearby base Boulder fired illuminating rounds as a way to signal to the NATO helicopters – not the precise mortar and artillery that the U.S. claims. The NATO helicopters then begun to attack Boulder.

"Any allegation that the NATO troops thought that they were firing on insurgents when they attacked the Volcano and Boulder observation posts is baseless," reads the Pakistani document. "NATO was aware that the bases were there when they fired on them. NATO troops are also well aware that terrorists seeking refuge in mountainous areas install themselves in ravines and deep valleys which provide cover from aerial attacks -- not in plain sight on the top of a mountain."

In an interview, a senior Pakistani military official expanded, saying that the attack stopped after the Pakistani and American military established communication. But then the helicopters returned to the area and once again shot at the bases. In the days after the attack, the Pakistani army's head of military operations cited that fact as evidence the attack had "deliberately" targeted Pakistani troops.

"I doubt anything can be done… in Afghanistan."

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The attack came just as the U.S.' rocky relations with Pakistan were slowly getting back on track. In November, senior U.S. military officials described how the two militaries were beginning to speak to each other for the first time since before a particularly bad round of accusations in September.

The trust had dwindled to nearly nothing. Attacks from Pakistan on U.S. troops were up four times compared to the previous year, and military officials gave interviews in which they openly said militant safehavens inside Pakistan were imperiling the war effort.

But by November, senior military officials said the Pakistani military was at least answering U.S. calls when special operations forces units took fire from the Pakistani side of the border. Sometimes the Pakistani officers would give authorization to the U.S. to shoot, according to a U.S. military official.

But after the incident, anger swept through Pakistan's government and military. A weak civilian government already seen by many in Pakistan as too close to the U.S. went out of its way to mourn the dead. The military – which came under criticism for not firing back -- held a public funeral attended by the powerful army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani. Kayani then told Pakistani soldiers on the border they were free to open fire – without receiving prior permission -- next time they were attacked.

The government then closed the supply route over which approximately one third of all NATO supplies arrive in Afghanistan. And privately, according to U.S. and Pakistani officials, Pakistan began to bring up long-term demands that it wanted met: that the U.S. share more information about drone targets, pay more money to use the supply line, and reveal more details about CIA operations inside Pakistan.

More than anything, the senior Pakistani military official said, Pakistan planned to ask the U.S. to formalize post-9/11 arrangements over drones and over-flight approval that had originally been made informally.

"Now, everything should be formalized, and everything should act within the parameters we set," the official said, drawing a virtual box with his fingers.

But Pakistani officials presented those demands as a starting point – only after the U.S. apologized. Now that the U.S. has refused to do that, it's not clear how far the Pakistanis will go in cutting off U.S. ties.

The senior Pakistani military official, however, delivered a warning before the report was released. He said that if the U.S. and Pakistan failed to redraw their bilateral agreements, then the U.S. would not receive the help it is asking for to draw down the war in Afghanistan.

"If our goals are not aligned," he said, "I doubt anything can be done… in Afghanistan."

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