By Adam Levine
The investigation into the deadly November airstrike that killed 24 Pakistani troops found that the problems and miscommunications were exacerbated by a lack of trust between the Pakistanis and International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.
The Pentagon statement regarding the investigation noted that lack of goodwill is undermining a critical element of the Afghanistan war, shutting down the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region to insurgent traffic.
"We must work to improve the level of trust between our two countries. We cannot operate effectively on the border - or in other parts of our relationship - without addressing the fundamental trust still lacking between us," the statement read.
The lack of trust, which plays out on a much more substantial level between the US and Pakistani governments, has only been exacerbated by the border attack. While there are signs that the relationship is slowly being revived, including a return of Pakistani officers to liaison headquarters also staffed by ISAF and Afghanistan, Pakistan has yet to open up the border crossings to let NATO send supplies into Afghanistan.
"There never has been trust from the start," said Anthony Cordesman, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "To talk about trust or friendly relations has been a myth since 2001."
When U.S. special forces swooped into Pakistan and killed Osama bin Laden, not a single word was said to Pakistan until the mission was complete. Additionally, ISAF military officials have long accused Pakistan of allowing insurgents to position on the border and fire into Afghanistan.
The November incident highlighted how that mistrust eroded any ability to work together even in coordination centers which were established for the very purpose of Pakistan, Afghanistan and ISAF to work together.
Miscommunication between U.S. and Pakistani military officials - including the reluctance of Pakistani officials to give exact locations of their forces and NATO officers to do the same– were key factors, the U.S. lead investigator said.
The investigation shows there is a perception that the Pakistanis are "reticent to give all their border locations," Brig. Gen. Stephen A. Clark said.
"There is confusion caused by this because there is a lack of precision as to where this is occurring, Clark said. When the Pakistanis were asked where the firing was occurring, the answer back, according to Clark, "well you know where it is because you are shooting at them,' rather than giving a position."
At another point, when the NATO representative in the coordination center was given a specific location, Clark said he was told only to give a general location to the Pakistanis in the headquarters.
"He had been told not to pass the coordinates but to only give a general location. So on the ISAF side everybody had the exact coordinates, but it was passed to the Pakistani [liason officer] as a general location, which normally might have worked had his machine been configured correctly," Clark said.
Had the NATO liason given his Pakistani counterpart the exact coordinates, it is likely the confusion could have been stopped right then.
However, Clark explained, the NATO officer inputted the coordinates into his own computer and relayed a general description of the area to the Pakistanis. The problem was, the NATO officer did not enter the coordinates correctly and instead told the Pakistanis the NATO troops were firing on a location nine miles north of the actual location. Based on the incorrect information, the Pakistanis responded there were no troops in the area. It would be another hour approximately before that was rectified.
Clark noted this was symptomatic of "an overarching lack of trust between the two sides, as far as giving out specifics."
"A perception from ISAF that the Pakistani are unwilling to give or reticent to give full disclosure on all their border locations, for one," Clark said during the news briefing. "And two, they are under the impressions that when they have shared specifics, that some of their operations have been compromised. "
Pakistan refused to participate in the NATO/US investigation. Instead, it conducted its own investigation which concluded that the US attack was a deliberate and continued despite knowledge of Pakistan's military being present.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey informed his counterpart General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani in the past day about the investigation conclusion, Pentagon spokesman George Little said. But the Pakistanis have not been given a full briefing about the results yet. Nor did they seem very receptive of the findings publicized.
“Currently, we don’t care much about these findings, and will see if a proper reaction is necessary once the actual report comes out”, a senior Pakistani government official told CNN on the condition of anonymity.
Pakistan has demanded nothing short of an apology from President Obama. To this point, U.S. officials have expressed regret but not an outright apology. Although the Pentagon statement Thursday outlining the report came close.
"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," the statement read. "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."
"I just would say that we believe that expressing our deep regret is appropriate," State Department Spokesman Mark Toner said on Thursday. He added the U.S. is prepared to compensate families "in recognition of the loss incurred."
See investigation details here