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Thursday, December 22

New York Times on US military's investigation of Nov. 25 NATO-Pakistan border shooting incident

"In an important detail that was not disclosed at the Pentagon briefing but is likely to further aggravate relations with Islamabad, an American officer in Afghanistan said the joint patrol of 120 Afghan and American Special Operations forces, operating along the often poorly demarcated frontier between Afghanistan and Pakistan, had come under Pakistani fire as it was entering an Afghan village, endangering Afghan civilians as well as the soldiers. The American officer said he believed that the Pakistanis had used night-vision technology because their shooting was unusually accurate, even though there were no casualties."

Here is the link to the full transcript of the Pentagon press briefing under discussion in the Times report (see below). The details provided by the report raise many questions; for instance:

> Why did the Pentagon offer to make "bereavement payments" to families of the dead Pakistani soldiers? Who advised them to do this? A NATO 'partner?' Someone at State, Pentagon, NSC? A U.S. commander in Afghanistan?

> Given the U.S. military's certain knowledge that it would be folly to share specific information on U.S. troop locations with Pakistan's military, why did the Pentagon characterize U.S. actions leading up the shooting incident as "mistakes?" See Michael Waltz's December 6, 2011 report for Foreign Policy's AFPAK Channel on Pakistan's Double Game on the Durand Line:
[...] Indeed, it is important to understand that incidents such as the [Nov. 25] exchange in Mohmand are not isolated occurrences, though only the most serious make headlines. Second, as our policy community is finally coming to fully realize, Pakistani forces are not only turning a blind eye, but actively aiding and abetting the insurgency in attacks on not only the Afghans but U.S. and coalition forces as well. That said, it's equally important to realize the painstaking, almost paralyzing, lengths to which the coalition goes to attempt to coordinate with the Pakistani Army and to avoid accidental attacks on their posts.
[...]
Rather than questioning the [NATO] coalition procedures, we should be questioning why the Taliban are so confident in their own safety in proximity to the Pakistani military.[...]
> Regarding the speculation that the Pakistani troops were using night-vision goggles when they fired into Afghanistan -- where did they obtain such equipment? One place would be the markets in Pakistan that specialize in selling military equipment stolen from NATO supply convoys trucking through Pakistan and Afghanistan. (See Shahan Mufti's detailed Dec. 15 report on the thefts.) But has the U.S. provided the Pak military with night-vision goggles?

The above questions are just for starters but for now here's the report, which I'm featuring in its entirety because every sentence is important -- right down to the last sentence. Or I should say especially the last sentence is important because it's a reminder that the Pakistanis didn't initiate shooting at the U.S.-Afghan patrol for no reason:
U.S. Concedes Error, but Says Pakistan Fired First at Border
By ERIC SCHMITT and MATTHEW ROSENBERG
December 22, 2011

Eric Schmitt reported from Washington, and Matthew Rosenberg from Kabul, Afghanistan. Salman Masood contributed reporting from Islamabad, Pakistan.

WASHINGTON — A United States military investigation has concluded that a series of checks and balances designed to prevent deadly cross-border mishaps with Pakistan failed to avert a NATO airstrike last month that killed 26 Pakistani troops in part because American officials did not trust Pakistan enough to give it detailed information about American troop locations in Afghanistan.

A report by the inquiry concluded that mistakes by both American and Pakistani troops led to airstrikes against two Pakistani posts on the Afghanistan border. But two crucial findings — that the Pakistanis fired first at a joint Afghan-American patrol and that American aircraft fired back after repeatedly warning the Pakistanis that they were shooting at allied troops — were likely to further anger Pakistan, and plunge the already tattered relationship between the United States and Pakistan to new depths.

In a statement and later at a news conference here on Thursday, the Defense Department said that “inadequate coordination by U.S. and Pakistani military officers” and “incorrect mapping information” that NATO had provided to the Pakistani authorities capped a chain of errors that caused the debacle.

“This, coupled with other gaps in information about the activities and placement of units from both sides contributed to the tragic results,” George Little, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters.

The incident, the worst in nearly a decade riddled with fatal cross-border blunders, underscored gaping flaws in a system established in recent years to avoid such mistakes. In this case, American officials acknowledged that the American policy of not divulging to Pakistan the precise location of allied ground troops patrolling in Afghanistan — for fear Pakistan might jeopardize their operations — contributed to the accident and underscored what the chief investigator called an “overarching lack of trust between the two sides.”

On Nov. 25, the same day the incident began, Gen. John Allen, the allied commander in Afghanistan, met in Islamabad with Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the Pakistani Army chief, to try to improve border coordination procedures.

In an important detail that was not disclosed at the Pentagon briefing but is likely to further aggravate relations with Islamabad, an American officer in Afghanistan said the joint patrol of 120 Afghan and American Special Operations forces, operating along the often poorly demarcated frontier between Afghanistan and Pakistan, had come under Pakistani fire as it was entering an Afghan village, endangering Afghan civilians as well as the soldiers. The American officer said he believed that the Pakistanis had used night-vision technology because their shooting was unusually accurate, even though there were no casualties.

Pakistan has insisted that its forces did nothing wrong, and that they did not fire the first shots. Rather, senior Pakistani military and civilian officials have openly accused the United States of intentionally striking the border posts, even after Pakistani officers called their counterparts to complain their outposts were under allied attack.

The Defense Department statement included an expression of regret, though it did not appear to go as far as the apology Pakistani officials have demanded. “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,” it said.

Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, the Pakistani military spokesman, said in a text message on Thursday: “The Pak Army does not agree with the findings of the US NATO inquiry as being reported in the media.”

Pentagon officials said that on Wednesday, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. James N. Mattis, head of the military’s Central Command, called General Kayani to tell him the inquiry was complete and to offer a briefing. It is unclear when that briefing will happen, American officials said.

A Pentagon spokesman, Capt. John Kirby, said the United States was prepared to make bereavement payments to families of the Pakistani soldiers killed. But a senior Pakistan security official in Islamabad said last week that Pakistan would refuse any “blood money.”

In a telephone briefing with reporters here, Brig. Gen. Stephen A. Clark of the Air Force, who conducted the inquiry, said that both sides erred after the allied patrol.

According to a chronology by General Clark and other American military officials, the patrol planned to raid the village of Maya, about one mile inside the Afghan province of Kunar, near the Pakistani tribal area of Mohmand. Hiking up steep “goat trails” on a moonless night, the patrol came under heavy machine-gun fire from the ridge above at 11:09 p.m. on Nov. 25.

General Clark said the first allied mistake was that NATO did not inform Pakistan about the allied patrol that night, so the Pakistani soldiers would not have known to expect allied forces near their posts. NATO and Pakistani forces are supposed to inform each other about operations on the border precisely to avoid this kind of mistake.

After the allied ground force came under fire, the Pakistanis continued their attack despite flares fired from an AC-130 gunship and deafening, 600-mile-an-hour, low-level passes by two F-15E fighter jets — neither of which the Taliban would have been able to do — intended to warn to the Pakistanis.

The second American error came at 11:24 p.m. when, with the Pakistani firing continuing, the AC-130 gunship opened fire for six minutes. That strike was set in motion when ground commanders believed they had been told no Pakistani troops were in the area. In reality, NATO was still checking.

Moreover, before calling in the airstrikes, the Americans tried to verify whether Pakistani troops were in the area, but gave the Pakistani Army only a general location of the potential airstrike targets, and a wrong one at that. That error was compounded when a NATO liaison incorrectly configured his digital map.

“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,” General Clark said.

The Pakistanis made mistakes, too, he said. Pakistan never told NATO that it had established the border posts, which had been up for about three months and which a senior American military official called “a bunch of rocks.” Pakistan has said it did tell NATO. Each side is supposed to inform the other when setting up new border positions.

Why the Pakistanis were firing remains unclear. Pakistan did not participate in the inquiry, but General Clark acknowledged that he did not take into consideration news media reports on several detailed public briefings held by the Pakistani military in recent days.

From 11:44 p.m. until midnight, the AC-130 and Apache helicopter gunships resumed firing on “rudimentary bunkers.”

A third engagement took place starting at 12:40 a.m., when a heavy machine gun began firing from the Pakistani side “a little further north” of the first Pakistani shooting. About 1 a.m., American officials finally confirmed the Pakistan presence at the posts, and firing ceased.

The joint patrol resumed its mission in the village, the American officer said, and seized one of the largest caches of weapons in Kunar Province this year along with a bomb-making facility.

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Comments:
When NATO meets in Chicago in May--I think it's May--, NATO expansion will be discussed.

Plus, we are being kicked out of Pakistan (maybe, who knows what goes on behind the scenes amongst our geniuses and theirs). I figured a this would happen now that OBL is killed and we need to withdraw somehow.

The same old Clintonian-Holbrookian people are in charge of disbursing non-military aid and State now has a "Pakistan cell" for routing some monies from the Pentagon? Will post the link if, well, I feel like it.

Happy New Year, all.

Just like the man says, "same as it ever was. Same as it ever was."
 
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