By Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr
U.S. officials said American forces checked first with their Pakistani counterparts before launching a controversial, fatal airstrike last weekend - though such claims have not resonated among authorities in Islamabad, who officially shut down NATO movement inside that nation Friday.
Some 24 Pakistani troops were killed in the November 26 strike, which has prompted vigorous criticism in Pakistan and spurred its Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to say that Islamabad is now reevaluating its relationship with Washington.
According to two U.S. officials familiar with the initial assessment of the incident, U.S. commandos were working alongside Afghan troops when they came under fire in a poorly marked border area. The troops did not tell Pakistani authorities about the mission ahead of time, because they thought it would take place entirely within Afghanistan.
The U.S. officials declined to be identified, citing the sensitive nature of the information. They also stressed that a more thorough investigation is ongoing, which could turn up new information. That probe, headed by U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Stephen Clark, is due on December 23.
Before calling in airstrikes, the U.S. forces checked with a Pakistani liaison team. They were not seeking permission - because the airstrikes were described as a matter of self-defense - but were making sure Pakistani troops weren't in what was called a poorly marked border area, the officials said.
After that consultation, the U.S. believed there were no Pakistani forces nearby, which turned out not to be true.
NATO later called the subsequent mass casualties caused by the strike "tragic (and) unintended." U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta have called the incident a "tragedy" and offered condolences, though Washington has yet to issue a formal apology.
One of the U.S. officials said it wasn't clear if the Pakistanis just didn't know their forces were in the vicinity or didn't understand the location the U.S. forces were talking about.
"Mistakes were made on both sides," one U.S. official said.
Pakistani officials, for their part, have not given any indication that their forces had any communication with NATO troops ahead of the attack. In recent days, in fact, they have taken more and more steps aimed at the military coalition - which continues to be active in Afghanistan and also has gone at times into Pakistan, including for the mission that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden this year.
That continued Friday, when Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said that NATO and International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, supplies would no longer be routed through Pakistan.
Pakistan's Cabinet and its defense committee unanimously approved this measure, which mirrors a parliamentary resolution passed in May after U.S. forces killed bin Laden in Abbottabad without Pakistan's consent. Parliament would have to approve a reversal of this new policy, Khar said.
"We want to be partners with the world, in this effort to bring peace and stability to the region. But not at the cost of Pakistan's own sovereignty and territorial integrity," she told reporters.
The implementation of this policy follows like-minded, if less definitive, moves made this week.
Specifically, Pakistani authorities turned back 300 trucks carrying NATO supplies and fuel into Afghanistan on Monday. The next day, the Cabinet "noted with satisfaction" that supply lines had been closed and a request had been made for the United States to vacate the Shamsi Air Base.
Pakistan has also decided to boycott a conference on the future of Afghanistan set for next Monday in Bonn, Germany.
Besides whether or not there was advance notice of the strike, there are many other points of contention between Pakistan and U.S. officials.
One has to do with the reported firing on U.S. and Afghan forces, which allegedly prompted the airstrike. A U.S. official said that the Clark-led investigation is trying to determine who shot at the allied troops. Pakistan's military spokesman, Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, has denied that Pakistani troops prompted the attack by firing on NATO helicopters, insisting that the NATO forces fired first on Pakistani military checkpoints.
A U.S. official on Friday suggested that the strike's targets were not standard military outposts, but more like "encampments." "There were a bunch of tents, there was no base, there was no walled compound," the official said.
Journalist Shaan Khan contributed to this report.