REPORTING FROM WASHINGTON -- The main investigation of a NATO attack that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers will be conducted by Central Command, which oversees U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, Pentagon spokesman George Little said Monday.
“I think you can expect the investigation to look at the full range of factors that contributed to this tragedy and it will be broad, expansive and thorough,” Little said.
Pentagon officials appeared confident that Pakistan, which relies heavily on U.S. aid, will not sever relations over the incident. Several said they expected that it may take a while for the relationship to recover.
“The Pakistani government knows our position,” Little said, “and that is that we do regret the loss of life in this incident and we are investigating it.”
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said President Obama views the deaths of the Pakistani soldiers in a raid by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as “a tragedy.”
“We mourn the brave Pakistani service members who lost their lives, and our sympathies go out to their families and go out to Pakistan,” Carney said.
“We continue to believe that it will be in not just the United States' interest, but Pakistan's interest to work with us cooperatively on our shared goals,” he said. “Don't forget that Pakistan and the Pakistani people have been primary victims of terrorism and terrorists and that we work with them, and that cooperative relationship has borne fruit for the United States and for our national security interests.”
According to a statement by Central Command, the investigation will be conducted by Brig Gen. Stephen Clark, an officer with Air Force Special Operations Command at Hurlburt Field, Fla.
The governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan will be invited to participate in the investigation, the statement said. Officials from the two governments should be included “to the maximum extent possible to determine what happened and preclude it from happening again,” it added.
Marine Gen. James M. Mattis, who leads Central Command, gave Clark a Dec. 23 deadline for issuing initial findings.
The U.S. can maintain its operations if supply routes through Pakistan are kept closed, but how long it can do so remains unclear.
Around 40% of nonlethal supplies for the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan move by truck through Pakistan, U.S. officials say. The rest is transported by air and by other land routes through Russia and other countries to Afghanistan’s north.
-- David S. Cloud and Peter Nicholas
Photo: White House Press Secretary Jay Carney at his daily news briefing on Monday. Credit: Haraz N. Ghanbari / Associated Press