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Pentagon: U.S., Pakistan Share Blame In Shooting

Dec 22, 2011
Originally published on December 22, 2011 7:36 pm

The U.S. military said Thursday that U.S. and Pakistani forces both made mistakes in a U.S. helicopter attack that killed two dozen Pakistani troops in November along the Afghan-Pakistan border.

The Pentagon released the findings of its investigation that said a lack of trust, miscommunication and faulty map information all contributed to the shooting.

"For the loss of life and lack of coordination between U.S. and Pakistani forces that contributed to those losses, we express our deepest regret," said Pentagon spokesman George Little.

Brig. Gen. Stephen Clark, who oversaw the Pentagon investigation, said a team of U.S. and Afghan commandos was on the ground in the eastern part of Afghanistan, near the border with Pakistan.

They were about to conduct a raid on an Afghan village when they started getting hit by "very direct and heavy machine-gun fire over their head ... coming from the ridgeline."

Pakistan has been saying that U.S. troops fired first. But the Pentagon's report says the U.S. team fired in self-defense. Clark said the Americans radioed headquarters to ask if there were any Pakistani military in the area. They were told no — so they called in attack helicopters to retaliate.

"They never anticipated taking fire from the ridgeline," Clark said. The American troops thought "this was a hostile force, an insurgent force occupying high ground, shooting down at them."

No Trust, Bad Information

The Pentagon report points out two major problems. First, the U.S. mistakenly gave Pakistan the wrong location of the attack.

As a result, the Pakistanis told the Americans that there were no Pakistani troops in that area. But based on the American information, the Pakistanis were talking about a different area nine miles away from where the shooting was actually taking place.

The second mistake, according to the report, is that Pakistan had not told NATO that it was moving troops into that area in the first place.

Clark says Pakistanis don't always share their troop movements with the U.S., and the Americans doesn't always tell Pakistan about U.S. military plans.

American troops "are under the impression that when they have shared specifics, that some of their operations have been compromised," Clark said.

Little, the Pentagon spokesman, added, "We cannot act effectively along the border or in other parts of our relationship without addressing the fundamental trust still lacking between us."

Trust between the two sides has been shrinking for some time. There was a stark example in May, when the U.S. did not inform Pakistan about the raid that killed Osama bin Laden deep inside Pakistani territory.

"If you had had this kind of tragic incident several years ago, there was at least some ballast in the relationship that would have kept things on track," said Dan Markey, an expert on Pakistan with the Council on Foreign Relations.

But now, he says, the relationship is in real jeopardy after the bin Laden raid and a series of other high-profile standoffs between the U.S. and Pakistan. The Obama administration is hoping that by accepting some responsibility for last month's shooting, it can begin to rebuild the relationship with Pakistan.

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Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

LYNN NEARY, HOST:

And I'm Lynn Neary.

The U.S. military is admitting that it made mistakes, contributing to the deaths of two dozen Pakistani troops in November. Today, the Pentagon released the findings of its investigation into the attack along the Afghan-Pakistan border. It found that a lack of trust and miscommunication between the U.S. and Pakistan caused mistakes on both sides.

NPR's Rachel Martin has more.

RACHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: Pentagon spokesman George Little started out with an apology, but stopped short of taking full blame.

GEORGE LITTLE: 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.

MARTIN: Regret for an incident that has brought the U.S.-Pakistan alliance to yet a new low. Brigadier General Stephen Clark oversaw the Pentagon investigation and he recounted how the incident happened. He said U.S. and Afghan commandos were on the ground along the border with Pakistan. They were about to conduct a raid on a village when they came under attack.

BRIGADIER GENERAL STEPHEN CLARK: At about 11:09 p.m., so an hour after they'd been on the ground, is when they received the first fire. It was very direct and heavy machinegun fire. They identified that the machinegun fire is coming from the ridgeline.

MARTIN: Now, Pakistan claims that U.S. troops fired first. But the Pentagon's report says the U.S. team fired in self-defense. Clark said the Americans radioed headquarters to ask if there were any Pakistani military in the area. They were told no, so they called in attack helicopters to retaliate. Again, General Clark.

CLARK: They never anticipated taking fire from the ridgeline, nor anticipated the idea that it might be Pakistani military there. So their entire mind frame was that this was a hostile force, an insurgent force shooting down at them.

MARTIN: It wasn't insurgents. It was the Pakistani military. The Pentagon report points out two major problems. First, the U.S. mistakenly gave Pakistan the wrong location of the attack, so the Pakistanis told them: Yes, all clear. There are no Pakistani troops in that area. But they were talking about a different area nine miles away from where the attack was actually taking place.

The second mistake, the U.S. report blames Pakistan for not telling NATO that they were moving troops into that area in the first place. General Clark says Pakistanis don't always share their troop movements with the U.S., and the Americans doesn't always tell Pakistan about U.S. military plans.

CLARK: They are under the impression that when they have shared specifics, that some of their operations have been compromised. That was out of the scope of this investigation. So, 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.

MARTIN: People as in the American and NATO forces working in Afghanistan. Pentagon spokesman George Little says it comes down to trust.

LITTLE: We cannot operate effectively on the border or in other parts of our relationship without addressing the fundamental trust still lacking between us.

MARTIN: Trust that has been eroding for years. Dan Markey is an expert on Pakistan with the Council on Foreign Relations. He says the raid in May, that killed Osama bin Laden, triggered a series of standoffs between the U.S. and Pakistan. But he says today's report, where the U.S. takes some blame, could mark a turning point.

DAN MARKEY: Sharing the investigations, outcomes with Pakistani officials will be one way to pry open the door that's been shut in the relationship. And if through that conversation the Pakistanis begin to be somewhat forthcoming, then maybe the United States can take more actions in terms of public statements as they have of regret, condolences and so on.

MARTIN: And that, he says, could be the beginning of a new chapter in U.S.-Pakistani relations. That's what the Obama administration is hoping. Now that the U.S. has reached out and accepted some responsibility, it's up to the Pakistanis to reach back.

Rachel Martin, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.