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U.S., Pakistan made errors in airstrike that killed 24, report says

December 22, 2011 |  4:33 am

REPORTING FROM KABUL AND ISLAMABAD -- Both U.S. and Pakistani forces made errors that led to American airstrikes last month that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers and sent relations between the two nations tumbling to a new low, according to a forthcoming U.S. military report.

The report’s main findings, which were being circulated among military officials and Western diplomats on Thursday, were expected to be made public in Washington within days, though parts of the report will likely remain classified.

Pakistan, which has insisted that its soldiers were fired on without provocation, is unlikely to be appeased by investigators’ assertion that U.S. forces made some key mistakes in carrying out the airstrikes early on the morning of Nov. 26. Those included giving Pakistani military officials mistaken coordinates of the border areas that were to be targeted in the airstrikes, and failing to warn Pakistani counterparts that a nighttime special forces operation would be taking place close to the frontier that night, said two Western officials familiar with the report’s contents.

But the report also says that Pakistani soldiers fired the first shots at the U.S.-Afghan force, and also asserts that Pakistani authorities had failed to fully brief the NATO force about the establishment of several military bases in the highly sensitive border region.

Pakistan has called the airstrikes a deliberate act of aggression. The soldiers’ deaths triggered furious anti-American protests in Pakistan and put the country’s civilian government under heavy pressure from the country’s military establishment.

U.S. officials say military channels of communication are quietly being reopened, and that the two sides have already taken some measures to ensure that lethal misunderstandings do not occur when both Pakistani and American forces believe they are targeting insurgents. But the political fallout is proving much harder to contain, and Pakistan is continuing to blockade NATO shipments bound for Western forces in Afghanistan.

NATO’s International Security Assistance force and the American Embassy in Kabul declined to make public statements on the findings of the investigation. The government of President Hamid Karzai, which has publicly sought to distance itself from the affair, also had no immediate comment on the reported findings.

A senior Pakistani military official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the matter, said the military has been given the report, but added it was still looking it over and was not ready to make any statements.


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Photo: Pakistani university students protest against the NATO airstrikes on Pakistani troops. Credit: Shakil Adil / Associated Press