ISLAMABAD, Pakistan —Pakistan on Monday sternly rejected a U.S. account of a deadly NATO airstrike in November, an incident that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers at a post near the Afghan border and severely strained ties between the long-wary allies.
In a terse formal report, the Pakistani military maintained its previously stated position that coalition forces conducting a ground raid in Afghanistan carried sole blame for a clash that it said was “deliberate at some level.”
Thousands of Pakistanis took part in mass rallies in two different cities on Sunday, expressing anger against the United States and NATO for a recent air strike on Pakistani soil which left 24 people dead. (Dec. 18)
The two countries are allies but their relationship has been plagued by mistrust over the last 50 years.
The Pakistani report came one month after a Pentagon investigation attributed the exchange to miscommunications rooted in mutual mistrust but said NATO forces acted in justifiable self-defense.
The incident plunged a hobbling U.S.-Pakistan relationship to new depths and underscored the gulf in communication between NATO troops and the Pakistani military. In response, Pakistan closed its border crossings to NATO supply convoys, evicted the United States from a base used to support CIA drone strikes and suspended high-level meetings with U.S. officials.
Although it repeated points that Pakistani officials had already expressed, the Pakistani account suggested that relations with the United States are unlikely to bounce back soon. Countering the findings of the Pentagon investigation, Pakistan said it was “inconceivable” that the border posts fired upon were unknown to coalition troops. The report also charged that NATO officials violated agreed procedures by, among other things, failing to notify Pakistan about the ground operation.
U.S. officials have faulted Pakistan for firing on the NATO mission. The Pakistani report justified that action, arguing that Pakistani soldiers, upon detecting unidentified movement along a border regularly traversed by insurgents, had a right to fire warning shots at forces they could only conclude were hostile. That the exchange lasted nearly two hours despite Pakistani pleas to coalition counterparts revealed “deep, varied and systemic” failures by NATO, the report said.
Pakistani and U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan have worked for years to coordinate operations along the militant-riddled and mountainous frontier, but both sides complain about insurgent infiltration and firing from the other side. The Pakistani report said it is “obvious to the Pakistan military that the entire coordination mechanism has been reduced to an exercise in futility.”
Pakistan and the United States have been reevaluating the terms and expectations of their strategic partnership. Despite the public freeze, officials on both sides say relations are slowly improving, as is cooperation between NATO, Afghan and Pakistani troops stationed at joint centers along the remote border area. Pakistani officials say they expect to reopen the NATO supply routes but will impose higher taxes.
Drone strikes, which the United States stopped carrying out in the wake of the border clash, resumed two weeks ago. On Monday, an alleged drone attack in the North Waziristan tribal region killed at least four people, news services reported.