Pakistani fire, mutual errors led to Mohmand troop deaths: ISAF inquiry

The International Security Assistance Force briefed the media on the findings of an investigation into the events that led to the deaths of 24 Pakistani officers and soldiers during airstrikes in the Mohmand tribal agency on the night of Nov. 25-26.

The briefing was given earlier today by Brigadier General Stephen Clark, a senior officer in the US Air Force Special Operation Command who was assigned to lead the investigation. [See the full transcript of the briefing at the US Department of Defense’s website.]

The investigation showed that US forces involved in the clash with Pakistani troops “acted in self- defense and with appropriate force after being fired upon,” and that there was “no intentional effort to target persons or places known to be part of the Pakistani military or to deliberately provide inaccurate location information to Pakistani officials,” as Pakistani military officials have accused, according to George Little, a spokesman for the US Department of Defense.

Little said that “inadequate coordination by US and Pakistani military officers operating through the border coordination center, 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.”

“This, coupled with other gaps in information about the activities and placement of units from both sides contributed to the tragic results,” Little continued.

Clark said that Pakistani troops continued to fire after it was clear that ISAF forces were involved in the engagement. He also pointed to “the over-arching lack of trust in giving precise information” to Pakistani officers after previous border incidents. Clark further noted that the Pakistani military refused to cooperate with the investigation into the Mohmand incident.

The cross-border incident was sparked after more than 120 US and Afghan troops conducted an operation in the remote, mountainous village of Nawa in Kunar province, about 1 kilometer from the Pakistani border. The troops were dropped off outside of Nawa by helicopter at about 10 p.m. local time on Nov. 25, and then marched to the village on a “goat path” before taking fire from Pakistani troops.

Just after 11 p.m. local time, the ISAF and Afghan force took heavy machine gun and “accurate mortar fire” from a ridgeline along the Afghan-Pakistan border. Some of the mortars struck within 50 yards of the helicopter landing zone, leading the ground commander to believe the enemy was using night vision goggles to detect their infrared (IR) strobes.

“And it was with such precision that the ground force commander directed his people to turn off their IR strobes that they have, that you can see through your night vision devices, because he felt the fire was so accurate that somebody was seeing their location through their night vision goggles,” Clark said.

The ground forces commander attempted to identify the location of Pakistani forces in the area, as the attack was coming from Pakistan. At the same time he ordered a “show of force constituted” by a circling F-15 and an AC-130 gunship. The aircraft fired off their flares, “which effectively illuminates the entire valley,” and the F-15 was also streaking across the sky with afterburners on.

“There should be no doubt in anybody’s mind that it’s now coalition forces in the area; which is the intent of the show of force,” Clark said, as the Taliban do not possess aircraft. But nonetheless, “[t]his show of force does not cause the machine gun fire, nor the mortars, to cease firing upon his [the ground forces commander’s] position.”

As the fighting continued, “a series of miscommunications” led the ground commander and higher command to believe that there were no Pakistani forces in the area. Clark said that Pakistani officials at the Border Coordination Center did not provide the exact location of border outposts in the area, while ISAF officers would only give the “general location” where the fighting was taking place.

“This goes back to the opening part of an overarching lack of trust between the two sides as far as giving out specifics, but it’s also a very specific failure that occurred now that we have a firefight on our hands,” Clark said.

At about 1 a.m. on Nov. 26, when the ISAF troops received confirmation that “there were Pakistani military in the area and that they were border posts,” the ISAF troops immediately ended the engagement with the Pakistani troops.

Clark said that the efforts to prevent such incidents, including the establishment of the Border Coordination Center, failed to prevent the deadly clash due to an “evolving lack of trust. ”

“Because of the evolving lack of trust … from what is believed and indicated to us, a perception from ISAF that the Pakistanis are unwilling to give or reticent to give full disclosure on all their border locations, for one and two, they are under the impression that when they have shared specifics, that some of their operations have been compromised,” Clark said. He mentioned an incident in the same area on Oct. 5 “when they went to in-fill the helicopters, they were hit with RPG fire,” as indicative of the fact that “ISAF operations [were] being compromised by sharing [specific location] information” with the Pakistani military.

“That was out of the scope of this investigation, so I — we neither examined that deeply nor can validate that, but it is a perception that is out there and it is real for the people involved,” he continued.

Pakistani military officials continue to maintain that the US “deliberately” attacked their troops, and have demanded an apology. Pakistan has closed the border crossings to NATO supplies, ejected the CIA from a military base that was used to support Predator drone strikes in the tribal areas, and has said it is reevaluating its cooperation with the US in the War on Terror.

The US government has refused to apologize, but instead has offered its regrets and condolences for the loss of Pakistani lives during the clash. Little reiterated the US government’s position.

“For the loss of life and for the lack of proper coordination between U.S. and Pakistani forces that contributed to those losses, we express our deepest regret,” he said at the outset of today’s briefing. “We further express sincere condolences to the Pakistani people, to the Pakistani government and, most importantly, to the families of the Pakistani soldiers who were killed or wounded.”

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • evenhead says:

    Ok here’s what my questions to the Pakistani government would be”
    What would the US have to gain by purposely attacking an outpost that has no strategic value of any kind?
    What would he hope to gain my provoking a government that we already have strained ties with?
    What would we lose by attacking Pakistan?
    Personally I think the government is just insisting on making the US an enemy to divert attention away from it’s own internal instability and to rally popular support from their citizens.

  • Devin Leonard says:

    We shouldn’t apologize. We acted in self defense.
    The Pakis are as much to blame for this regrettable incident as we are. And I still say if they don’t start playing ball with us again soon, we threaten to dump their aid for good!

  • dr burke says:

    Guess they never heard of a buffer zone, say
    1 or 2 miles on each side of the border, would have cleared up or prevented this problem. Without a buffer zone, these incidents are bound to happen, by accident or on purpose. A buffer zone would eliminate either. Da.

  • Charles says:

    Afghanistan opening first major train service, providing key link for US supplies, trade

    By Associated Press, Published: December 21

    KABUL, Afghanistan — Operators ran the first train down Afghanistan’s first major railroad Wednesday, clearing the way for a long-awaited service from the northern border that should speed up the U.S. military’s crucial supply flow and become a hub for future trade.

  • Charu says:

    You don’t even have read between the lines. The Pakistanis kept firing even after NATO planes had lit the area with flares. They had to know that this was not the Taliban – assuming that they had mistakenly fired on the NATO troops initiall thinking that they were the Taliban, and even assuming that the Pakistanis would even fire on the Taliban! Therefore, this was a calculated decision to open fire. Their anger comes from NATO having the temerity to fire back. I think that the Pakistanis mistakenly thought that they were dealing with the Indians who never tire of turning the other cheek.
    It is also clear that NATO/ISAF has had it with Pakistani duplicity. From their concerns about operations being compromised when they informed the Pakistanis beforehand, to their belief that the fire being directed on them was aided by night-vision goggles, it shows a deep distrust on the ground which the politicians would do well to note. In addition, it points to the idiocy of providing the Pakistanis with technology that will inevitably used against us. Dakota Meyer got smeared for speaking out against selling night vision goggles to the Pakistanis.

  • Charu says:

    And here’s the kicker….. After the fight, the NATO-Afghan joint patrol resumed its mission and seized one of the largest caches of weapons in Kunar Province this year, along with a bomb-making facility.
    Now you know why the Pakistanis fired on the patrol!

  • mike Burk says:

    I understand that the USA is going to compensate the families of the dead soldiers. These guys are ISI guys who kill our soldiers. We might as well directly give money to AQ. When the Paks compensate other countries for the death thier homegrown government backed madrass terrorists sow we can take it off the bill. Until then when in doubt bomb them out

  • mike merlo says:

    Hopefully ‘inadequate coordination’ along the AfPak border becomes SOP.

  • come on says:

    This is only the first position from ISAF. Look for modifications until we get somewhat close to the truth. The assertion that the Pakistanis fired intentionally on ISAF troops possessing air suport because they all wanted to die is laughable on its face. The report seems to have the same intention as the action itself, to humiliate the Pakistanis and to show them that the US is taking a new and much more hostile approach.

  • NUS says:

    Good point Charu!
    Here is the second kicker.
    Since June 2011 PakMil has fired thousands of mortars into eastern Afghanistan seeking a reason to escalate frictions between the two governments. Why? Because Afghan Parliament was planning to vote on “Strategic Partnership” between US and Afghanistan beyond 2014 – a cover name for long term NATO/US bases in Afghanistan. This was Pakistan’s nightmare! The matter was not only a national issue for Afghans; it was a regional issue for the World. Afghanistan needed not only Afghans’ approval, but also neighbors’ approval, too.
    The task was even above Afghan Parliament’s authority. President Karzai called upon traditional Loya Jirga (Grand council consisted of Afghan tribal elders). Loya Jirga approved the long-term US/NATO “Strategic Partnership” in Afghanistan for ten years with possibility of extension. The second step was to get approval of the rest of the countries of the World. A World conference was scheduled in Bonn, Germany on December 6, 2011. Pakistan’s participation in Bonn conference was very crucial. If Pakistan had voted for “Strategic Partnership” in Afghanistan, Pakistan would have been obligated to stand besides Afghanistan and US/NATO and stop supporting Taliban.—Bonn-Conference-Offers-Few-Details-on-Supporting-Afghanistan-Past-2014-135103068.html
    On November 25-26, just ten days before the Bonn conference, Pakistan achieved its goal by deliberately putting his own forces under ISAF air fire. Death of 24 Pakistan paramilitary soldiers gave Pakistan an excuse to boycott Bonn conference. Pakistan did not participate in the conference. Not voting in Bonn conference, Pakistan feels unobligated to admit existence of a free Afghanistan, cooperate in Afghan peace process, or admit presence of long term US/NATO “Strategic Partnership” located on the heights of Hindu Kush Mountains as a reality.

  • Charu says:

    “The assertion that the Pakistanis fired intentionally on ISAF troops possessing air suport because they all wanted to die is laughable on its face.”
    Not so laughable if the Pakistanis expected NATO to back off; which is clearly the purpose of their subsequent overreaction to this attack. Now, the next time Pakistani fire and lob mortars at NATO patrols, NATO might decide to swallow and retreat. I hope not. The only thing that matters is the safety of our troops.

  • Solomon2 says:

    One needs to stop thinking of the Pakistani military as a subordinate institution but as a power in itself, a junta. Then everything starts to make sense: in a junta the power of the leaders is sustained from below. An incident like this can’t be independently investigated – or even disciplined – without the concurrence of officers in the chain of command – i.e., the ones being investigated. Any deviance from this tradition would also threaten their superiors with similar action in the future. Hence the stonewalling, the insistence on non-cooperation, and the limited review of Pakistani military, as opposed to NATO, actions.

  • Mr T says:

    It’s laughable to think ISAF forces intentionally fired on Pakistani border posts. ISAF goes way out of it’s way to minimize killing, including putting our own men in harms way to avoid loss of life of our enemies.
    Pakistan, not so much, evidenced by their support of “good” Taliban who attack ISAF forces in Afghanistan and shelter in Pakistan. Pakistan has allowed more than 24 Afghans and ISAF forces to be killed in Afghanistan by “good” Taliban. They are copmplicit in a LOT more deaths, and other crimes, than that.
    One only has to think in terms of Pakistani interests to see what is going on here. The Bonn conference escape is probaby right on.
    I wouldn’t be so sure about sacrificing Border guards to achieve that goal but it seems to me they have sacrificed Frontier Corps soldiers to the Taliban in the past by not providing them adequate support when their forts were overrun and letting known killers roam freely, including the groups supporting the Mumbai killers, and the Red Mosque killers.
    I know we should try everything to achieve a peaceful outcome in that region. Sometimes, I wish we would just partner with the Indians and finish Pakistan once and for all. I don’t know if that would escalate across the entire region and certainly, India would pay a price, but they have been paying a price for some time now.
    Like the bully who continues to pick fights with people, they will eventually get what they deserve, which is a beatdown or isolation from the rest of civilized society.
    Allies do not hold troop supply lines hostage. That is what enemies do. Know your enemy and don’t feed them.

  • Bombardier69 says:

    Those in seats of power are often corrupted by visions of all power fullness. i think that’s the case with US military. they just can’t see them doing anything wrong.As if all their actions are super tuned to perfection. and more importantly, no one should raise fingers at them. 26-28 Men have lost their lives, this many families have received a life time shock and still the US military doesn’t admit its wrong doings!
    What shames me is that the general perception in US public is also with US military. this from a nation that was supposed to be free and formed its union in quest of Justice is no longer Just in its judgement.
    Respect and honour are key words missing in the mind and hearts of these “self styled blind US Gods of world” . A poor man’s first choice is not always a dollar !


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