By Barbara Starr
A U.S. military-led investigation into a weekend firing incident that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers is focusing on what failures occurred in the military-to-military coordinating mechanisms that resulted in U.S. aircraft inadvertently killing the troops, according to two senior U.S. officials with direct knowledge of the initial reporting on the incident.
One of the officials told CNN the initial reporting indicates U.S. and Afghan forces operating on the Afghan side of the border indicated they were coming under fire from shots fired across the border from inside Pakistan. Those troops requested air support from the international coalition, which was then provided by helicopter and fixed-wing aircraft firing from Afghan airspace across into Pakistan.
The official noted that there are strong coordinating mechanisms in these incidents which include NATO and U.S. commanders calling their Pakistani counterparts and also checking with Pakistani liaison officers inside Afghanistan. The official said the U.S. believes the Pakistanis “were called” to warn of the pending firing, but he added “at this point we just don’t know exactly what coordination was done.”
The Pakistani military insisted Monday it had not fired first in the incident, and it said it had told NATO its aircraft were firing on friendly troops.
He believes the U.S. aircraft fired against two border checkpoints, but cautioned again that the information is based on initial reports. He also said there are indications both Apache helicopters and an AC-130 gunship might have been used.
It’s believed the entire incident from the time the initial troops came under fire in Afghanistan to the conclusion of the firing at the border posts lasted about two hours. The aircraft did not enter Pakistan airspace, he said.
In looking at what failed in the coordination of the air attack, the official said it’s a known tactic of insurgents to fire into Afghanistan from very close Pakistan border checkpoints because they believe it will give them sanctuary. In some cases it’s believed insurgents have paid off or intimidated Pakistani forces to leave the checkpoints.
The U.S. military has already begun what is known as a Joint Investigation and Assessment Team to gather initial information on the incident. The U.S. is “strongly placing our hopes in de-escalating this” through the investigation, the official said.
Officials are deliberately taking a close-mouthed approach to discussing the incident because they believe any public statements will raise tensions inside Pakistan and in the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, he said.
For now, the closing of the border to vehicle traffic will not unduly impact the re-supply effort for the war, but any further actions by the Pakistanis could pose serious impacts, the official said.