Friday, December 2, 2011

Pakistan: Refuses to Help

Pakistan Refuses to Help as U.S. Sorts Out a Fatal Attack

Arif Ali/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
President Obama was burned in effigy in Lahore, Pakistan, on Friday to protest last week's airstrikes that killed two dozen members of the Pakistani military.
Published: December 2, 2011
WASHINGTON — The American airstrikes that killed two dozen Pakistani soldiers last week were called in during a skirmish in which both sides thought they were under attack by the Taliban, American officials said Friday. But efforts to sort out precisely what happened — and in the process ease the latest crisis to strain the tenuous alliance between the United States and Pakistan — are being hindered by Pakistan’s refusal to cooperate with the American-led military investigation into the attack, the officials said.
Pakistan released an image of what it said was one of the border posts attacked last week. Even the most basic facts of the raid are in dispute.
A week after the raid on two Pakistani outposts, American and Pakistani officials are offering competing narratives of what went wrong during a tightly planned operation by Afghan and American Special Forces against a Taliban training camp on the remote, cedar-studded mountain slopes along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Even the most basic facts are in dispute. The Americans say they were fired on first and cleared the strikes with the Pakistanis. The Pakistanis say that NATO gave the wrong coordinates for the proposed airstrikes and that their forces fired only after the attacks began.

Previous cross-border strikes were investigated jointly and the fallout quickly contained, like the dispute that followedthe American helicopter attacks on Pakistani forces in September 2010. But a year of crises that began with anAmerican contractor shooting two Pakistanis to death on a street in Lahore and included the Navy Seal raid northwest of Islamabad that killed Osama bin Laden, now risks ending with the breach of an alliance that has been the cornerstone of American national security policy for the past decade, American officials and analysts said.

One United States official described the current feeling in Washington as “crisis fatigue.” The relationship has reached the point “where everyone expects a problem,” the official said.

The chief of the Pakistan Army, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, gave his forces the green light this week to return fire without waiting for orders from superiors if confronted by any future “aggression” from NATO forces, Pakistani military officials said. Pakistan is also moving to upgrade air defenses along the Afghan border, where only American aircraft could present a challenge.

The new orders, issued only days after top Pakistani officers insisted their forces were on the Afghan border only to fight the Taliban, were issued in a “command communiqué,” details of which were published on Friday in Pakistani newspapers. In the announcement, General Kayani said his troops “could respond on their own, when attacked, without waiting for orders from the command.”

He also said that “any act of aggression will be responded with full force, regardless of its consequences.”

The change in the Pakistani military’s rules of engagement appears intended to improve morale and ease anger among the rank and file and elements of the officer corps. After the Bin Laden raid in May, some officers publicly questioned General Kayani about his insistence that Pakistan continue to cooperate with the United States.

In Washington, Capt. John Kirby, a Defense Department spokesman, acknowledged that the deaths of the Pakistani soldiers last week have had “a chilling effect” on relations between the two countries, and that General Kayani’s statement was understandable. “He reiterated their right of self-defense,” Captain Kirby said. “We certainly respect that right of his. We have it as well.”

American officials also repeated their invitation to Pakistan to join the investigation into the strikes. But “they have elected, to date, not to participate,” said George Little, a spokesman for the Pentagon.

To make up for Pakistan’s lack of cooperation, a senior American military intelligence official said, the United States would rely on phone conversations, e-mail exchanges and images collected by Predator drones and on other reconnaissance and surveillance aircraft that were operating in or near the region before, during and after the airstrikes.

American Special Forces and Afghan commandos were sent into the mountains to clear a Taliban training camp. Much of what happened in the few hours between the troops’ arrival and the fatal airstrikes remains murky.

But it is clear that near the end of the operation, the Americans and Afghans came under fire and called in air support. What they did not know — as Apache attack helicopters and an AC-130 gunship swept in overhead — was that the people shooting at them were Pakistani soldiers, not Taliban insurgents.

American officials believe that the Pakistanis also thought they were fighting off the Taliban. Fearing an attack on their position, the Pakistanis fired on the allied force, one of a series of apparent mistakes that led to the Pakistani deaths.
The American belief is partly based on the fact that Pakistan had intelligence indicating that the Taliban were preparing to attack their positions, said a former senior American official who had been briefed on the NATO airstrike.

One of the main disputes is whether the Americans sought clearance from Pakistan before launching the airstrikes, and whether they gave the Pakistanis the right coordinates. The former administration official said the initial investigation indicated “both sides didn’t do what they were supposed to do,” although the details are unclear.

American officials say they did get clearance, passing on the information at one of the centers on the border where both sides station officers and exchange information in an effort to avoid firing on each other. The American officials said they received authorization from Pakistani officers who did not know Pakistani forces were in the area, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday, citing anonymous American officials.

But the Pakistan Army said they never gave the go-ahead for the airstrikes and that they were given the wrong coordinates by the Americans. The army has said the strikes lasted more than an hour and has called the attack “unprovoked and indiscriminate.”

Salman Masood contributed reporting from Islamabad, Pakistan.

A version of this article appeared in print on December 3, 2011, on page A6 of the New York edition with the headline: Pakistan Refuses to Help as U.S. Sorts Out a Fatal Attack.

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