The US and Pakistan are in a classic war of ‘he said, she said’ over last weekend’s attack by US aircraft on two Pakistani military border outposts in Mohmand that resulted in the deaths of 24 Pakistani troops. US officials are saying US forces struck after taking fire, while Pakistani generals are saying the attack was unprovoked and deliberate.
Here is the US version of events, as best as can be determined, from The Associated Press:
A joint U.S.-Afghan patrol was attacked by the Taliban early Saturday morning. While pursuing the enemy in the poorly marked border area, the patrol seems to have mistaken one of the Pakistan troop outposts for a militant encampment and called in a NATO gunship and attack helicopters to open fire.
U.S. officials say the reports suggest the Taliban may have deliberately tried to provoke a cross-border firefight that would set back fragile partnerships between the U.S. and NATO forces and Pakistani soldiers at the ill-defined border. Officials described the records on condition of anonymity to discuss classified matters.
According to the U.S. military records described to the AP, the joint U.S. and Afghan patrol requested backup after being hit by mortar and small arms fire by Taliban militants. Before responding, the joint U.S.-Afghan patrol first checked with the Pakistani army, which reported it had no troops in the area, the military account said.
Some two hours later, still hunting the insurgents – who had by then apparently fled in the direction of Pakistani border posts – the U.S. commander spotted what he thought was a militant encampment, with heavy weapons mounted on tripods.
The joint patrol called for the airstrikes at around 2:21 a.m. Pakistani time, not realizing the encampment was apparently the Pakistani border post. Records show the aerial response included Apache attack helicopters and an AC-130 gunship.
U.S. officials are working on the assumption the Taliban chose the location for the first attack to create just such confusion and draw U.S. and Pakistani forces into firing on each other, according to U.S. officials briefed on the operation.
Meanwhile, Pakistan continues to describe the incident as a “deliberate act of aggression,” in the words of Pakistani General Ashfaq Nadeem, the Army’s chief of operations. From the Express Tribune:
There are four Pakistan and Isaf Afghanistan joint coordination centres, and the attack took place despite procedures being in place, they said.
They said there had been no violation by Pakistan on the Mohmand Agency border. Nato and Isaf were aware of the border check posts in the area and had fired on them from 12:05am to 2:15am.
The Pakistani officer at the Tactical Operation Centre in Afghanistan had been misinformed, they said, adding that an American sergeant had told him that a Pakistan check post had fired on Special Forces in the border area and had changed his statement after seven minutes saying the fire had come from a different check post.
They said Volcano was the first check post that was attacked and communication had been cut off right after. Soldiers at the Boulder check post fired 26 air bursts but did not go after the helicopters as the situation could have gotten bad.
The Asia Times notes that the Pakistani military is uninterested in conducting an inquiry into the event:
What is absolutely stunning about the statement issued by Pakistan’s Defence Committee of the Cabinet (DDC), which met Saturday at Islamabad under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Yousuf Gilani is that it did not bother to call for an inquiry by the US or NATO into the air strike that resulted in the death of 28 Pakistani soldiers.
The reality is that we may not know exactly what happened last weekend in Mohmand until the ISAF inquiry is completed (it is expected to take more than a month). Either way, the Pakistanis are indicating they don’t care about any investigation. We hope the results won’t be buried, as in the case of the murder of US Army Major Larry Bauguess, who was gunned down at a border meeting by Pakistani troops in Teri Mangal in Kurram on May 14, 2007; the results of that investigation were hushed up in order to appease Pakistani sensibilities and maintain a relationship that at best can be described as dysfunctional.