WASHINGTON: A US military account of a Nato air strike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers during the weekend suggests the deaths resulted from a case of mistaken identity, The Associated Press learned Monday.
The AP has learned details of the raid, which began when a joint US-Afghan special operations team was attacked by militants just inside Afghanistan.
It ended when Nato gunships and attack helicopters fired on two encampments they thought were used by militants but actually were Pakistan border posts, the military account said.
US officials say the account suggests that the Taliban may have deliberately tried to provoke a cross-border firefight that would set back fragile partnerships between the US and Nato forces and Pakistani soldiers at the ill-defined border.
According to the US military records described to the AP, the joint US and Afghan patrol requested backup after being hit by mortar and small arms fire by Taliban militants in the early hours Saturday.
Officials described the records on condition of anonymity to discuss classified matters.
Before responding, the joint US-Afghan patrol first checked with the Pakistani army, which reported it had no troops in the area, the military account said.
Some two hours later, still hunting the insurgents who had by now apparently fled in the direction of Pakistani border posts, the US commander spotted what he thought was a militant encampment, with heavy weapons mounted on tripods.
The exact location of the border is in dispute in several areas.
Then the joint patrol called for the air strikes which occurred at 2:21 a.m. Pakistani time, not realising the encampment was apparently the Pakistani border post.
Records show the aerial response included Apache attack helicopters and an AC-130 gunship.
US officials are working on the assumption the Taliban chose the location for the first attack, to create just such confusion, and draw US and Pakistani forces into firing on each other, according to US officials briefed on the operation.