In an early morning call to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Pakistan’s foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, said the incident “negates the progress made by the two countries on improving relations.” The Pakistani foreign office said it had also lodged a protest with Afghanistan, urging the neighboring country to take “necessary measures” to prevent future airstrikes from its soil.
In a statement, Anders Fogh Rasumussen, NATO’s secretary general, called the airstrike a “tragic unintended incident.”
“The deaths of Pakistani personnel are as unacceptable and deplorable as the deaths of Afghan and international personnel,” Rasumussen said.
The airstrike, which NATO says it is investigating, has stirred public anger at the United States, which many Pakistanis view more as an adversary than partner. A headline in Sunday’s “The News,” an English-language newspaper, referred to the incident as a “slaughter.” Thousands of people protested outside the U.S. consulate in the southern city of Karachi, according to the Reuters news agency.
The Pakistani military said Saturday that NATO helicopters and fighter jets had fired on two border checkpoints and killed 24 soldiers, an incident that sent the two nations’ uneasy alliance into new crisis and fanned domestic criticism of Pakistan’s cooperation with the American war effort in Afghanistan.
Pakistan issued swift and furious condemnations of the early morning strike in the Mohmand tribal region along the Afghan border, which the military deemed unprovoked “aggression.” Within hours of the incident, Pakistan responded by shutting down the two border crossings used by trucks to ferry about half of supplies to coalition troops fighting in Afghanistan. Pakistan does not allow those coalition forces to enter or fire inside its territory.
The strike, which NATO officials in Kabul said was being investigated, came toward the end of a year in which the bilateral relationship has suffered unprecedented blows, including the American raid to kill Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in May. As it did in that operation, Pakistan condemned the Saturday strike as an intolerable breach of sovereignty, one officials and politicians said demonstrated American disregard for Pakistani life and would stoke terrorism.
Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said in a joint statement late Saturday that they offered their “deepest condolences for the loss of life and support fully NATO’s intention to investigate immediately.” Clinton and other senior U.S. officials spoke to their Pakistani counterparts by phone, stressing “the importance of the U.S.-Pakistani partnership,” the statement said.