Air Strikes: Twist in US Investigation Report

By Sajjad Shaukat

The US investigation report, released on December 23 this year about the NATO air strikes on Pakistani outposts, which killed 24 soldiers in Mohmand agency has further enraged Islamabad because of its faulty findings.

The report said that mistakes and misunderstandings both by Pakistani and American forces resulted in the air strikes, indicating that US-led NATO forces were fired on first and had “acted in “self-defence.”

Brig. Gen. Stephen Clark, who led the investigation into the incident, revealed, “US forces used the wrong maps…were unaware of Pakistani border post locations” as in that regard, Pakistan never informed NATO.” He added. “Lack of trust between the US and Pakistan to provide details about their locations and military operations along the border led to the NATO air strikes…US forces thought they were under attack, and called for air support on what they thought were enemy insurgents” or militants.

Notably, the Pentagon did not apologise for the action, as Pakistan had demanded. No doubt, this probe is full of unjustified facts as America has neither shared inquiry with Islamabad nor briefed Pakistani leaders on the results of the investigation.

Twist in the US investigation report could be judged from the fact that The New York Times, while quoting American and Western officials who asked not to be identified, already reported on December 22, “the key findings of the investigation is likely to further enrage Pakistan.”

The Times explained, “NATO did not inform Pakistan that the operation on the border was taking place, while NATO and Pakistani forces are supposed to inform each other when launching operations on the border precisely to avoid the kind of mistake that took place on Nov. 26. The second American mistake came when the air strikes were called in. The Americans apparently gave the Pakistani Army the wrong coordination.”  The paper indicated, “Regardless, the strikes began before their officers based at NATO coordination posts in Afghanistan had a chance to check with superiors in Pakistan.”

However, about air strikes, DG Military Operations Maj-Gen. Ishfaq Nadeem had said on December 8 that attack on Salala check posts was part of a ‘plot’ and a pre-planned move as the NATO helicopters continued firing till complete destruction of both the posts. He further elaborated that NATO forces had been told that they were attacking Pakistani military posts, but the helicopters kept on firing. Earlier, he stated that these were deliberate because “the positions of the posts were already conveyed to the ISAF through map references and it was impossible that they did not know these to be our posts.”

On November 28, 2011, Pakistan’s army spokesman Major-General Athar Abbas said that NATO could not make the excuse that they were chasing terrorists across the border because the area where the attack took place had been cleared off the insurgents.

There is no doubt that these were deliberate and unprovoked attack on Pakistan Army outposts. In this respect, in their earlier statements, US President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defence Secretary Leon Panetta had offered their “deepest condolences” in the cross-border incident, vowing ‘full probe’ into matter immediately, but they did not mention any firing by the Pakistani side. While some NATO officials had blamed Pakistan’s forces for gunship shelling and some had claimed that NATO attack was unintentional.

Without saying that Pakistan military did not provide maps about the new check posts, Gen. John Allen, commander of the NATO-led coalition forces in Afghanistan and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen had also supported the ISAF investigation regarding the event. Quite contrarily, spokesman for the NATO/ISAF, Brigadier General Carsten Jacobson had admitted that they were responsible for the casualties on Pakistani soil.

Nevertheless, it is not the new cross-border aerial strikes by the US-led NATO forces, based in Afghanistan. In the past, a number of such attacks were launched by the US jets and helicopters which targeted the security check posts of Pakistan, killing many military and paramilitary troops. Despite Islamabad’s strong reaction, lodging protest, every times, high officials of the US and ISAF have ordered investigation, but without any progress, these attacks have continued. While CIA-operated drone attacks also kept on going intermittently on Pakistan’s tribal areas.

In fact, these are deliberate aerial strikes which cannot be seen in isolation as these were particularly part of American double game with Pakistan.

In the recent past, US Admiral Mike Mullen (R) alleged that the Haqqani network is waging a ‘proxy war’ in Afghanistan with the assistance of ISI. However, US has always accused Pakistan of cross-border terrorism in Afghanistan. While, US-backed cross-border attacks by heavily armed militants who entered Pakistan from Afghanistan, killed 100 personnel of the security forces intermittently, coupled with ground shelling by the US-led forces and air strikes from time to time.

In this connection, on October 17, 2011, Maj-Gen. Athar Abbas disclosed, “Pakistani Taliban insurgency is based in Kunar and Nuristan provinces in Afghanistan…we have given locations and information about these groups to the US-led forces” which had failed to take any action against them.

In this context, the latest unprovoked firing on Pakistan’s military outposts in the Mohmand agency was part of US inter-related developments against Islamabad. The purpose of the US and its allies was to clear the areas for US-backed militants for their easy entrance into Pakistan as in the recent past most of the Afghan insurgents used it as their passage to attack our country. In fact, America wants to create maximum instability in our country so as to convert it into another Somalia or Yemen for fulfilling the collective interests of the US, India and Israel. All the subversive attacks in the Pakistan are part of the same game.

Pakistan has refused to accept expressions of regret over the deliberate cross-border strikes which have inflamed Pak-US ties. While showing strong reaction Pakistan’s civil and military leadership has taken tough measures such as blockage of the NATO supply to Afghanistan, vacation of the Shamsi Airbase and boycott of the second Bonn Conference on the future of Afghanistan.

Pakistan also decided to review its engagement with the US and its other allies. For this purpose, the two-day envoys’ conference deliberated on the country’s foreign policy on December 12 with special focus to review the relationship with the United States and NATO. ISI Chief Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha briefed the participants about the intentional NATO strikes. While presiding over the conference, Pakistan Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar warned that her country would retaliate against all future atrocities like the recent NATO attack which killed 24 soldiers.  In this respect, Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has directed all necessary steps for an effective response to the NATO attack in future.

As American lawmakers passed a bill to freeze $700 million aid to Pakistan, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar warned on December 15 that US will be responsible for defeat in war on terror as Pakistan could not fight the war alone.

Now, situation has changed as Pakistan is in better position than America. Despite baseless blame game of some US high officials against Islamabad, America knows that without the support of Pakistan, withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan in 2014 will not be completed. And the Taliban’s perennial attacks on the US-led NATO troops and Afghan forces will not allow the Kabul government to achieve stability in the post-2014 scenario. Besides, the US seeks to keep its military bases in Afghanistan permanently to fulfill its multiple strategic interests in the region, but all this demands stability in Afghanistan which is not possible without the support of Pakistan which shares common geographical, historical, religious and cultural bonds with Afghanistan.

While US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has stated on December 15 that the “US is working to improve its strained relationship with Pakistan because it is part of the region”, and “is especially important with respect to our work in Afghanistan.”

Nonetheless, although in order to console Pakistan, US has released its findings to bring Pak-US ties to the old position by noting American interests in Afghanistan, yet  twist in the US investigation report further enrages Islamabad which has rejected this probe.

Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations

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