WASHINGTON: The November 26 Nato air strikes on Pakistani border posts were not ‘unprovoked’, the US Defence Department said on Monday, rejecting a Pakistani report which said Nato and Isaf had attacked its troops without provocation.
At a briefing in Washington, a Pentagon spokesman also said he stood by a US military report, released last month, which said that both countries committed mistakes, which led to the death of 24 Pakistani soldiers in the raids.
The Pakistani report, released earlier in the day, “does not change our belief in the validity of (our) findings. The statement that this was an unprovoked attack by American forces is simply false,” Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt John Kirby told reporters during an off-camera news conference.
Pentagon Press Secretary George Little also rejected the Pakistani claim and insisted that the Nato attack was “not unprovoked (and) we have said this many, many times”.
Mr Little confirmed that Pakistan had officially communicated its findings to the US before going public with it and the Pentagon also conveyed its belief that “there were errors made on both sides here”.
Capt Kirby said the Pentagon was “100 per cent” behind the US Central Command report, which blamed both US and Pakistani forces operating near the border posts during the incident.
He said the US had desired Pakistani participation in the investigation, but Islamabad turned down the offer. Pakistan’s absence, however, “does not change our firm belief in the validity of the findings of the investigations that we did”.
The most important thing is that the Pentagon now wants to get past all this and wants to build a good cooperative relationship with the Pakistani military, he said.
“We still believe that coordination and communication with the Pakistani military, particularly across that border, remains vital to our success in Afghanistan. We are still very committed to this relationship and getting it on the right track,” Capt Kirby said.
The US defence official also said that Washington would like to see Nato supply routes reopened but that’s something for Islamabad to decide.
Capt Kirby acknowledged that the US-Pakistan relationship was going through a rough patch. “But we also believe that it is in the interest of both countries and both militaries to move beyond all that, try to find some common ground and try to advance that relationship in a positive direction than it has been going on in the last few months.”
The tensions that followed the Nov 26 raid, he noted, have had a negative impact on this relationship, which “is not going well, there is no doubt about it. But I would also say that on a daily basis the cooperation on a tactical level with the Pakistani military across the border continues and in some ways better facilitated. Our operations inside Afghanistan continue.”
At the State Department, spokesperson Victoria Nuland also said the US stood by the findings of the Centcom report on the Nov 26 attack but showed more flexibility than the Pentagon. “We believe that it was a very thorough investigation, but we remain open to discussing it further,” she said.
Nuland said that had Pakistan participated in the probe, the report could have had a better convergence of ideas.
“We want to discuss the Pakistani position with them after they finish their internal review for finding a way forward,” said the State Department official while referring to a parliamentary review of this dispute and its consequences.
“We look forward to talking through this issue as well as other broad range of issues with Pakistan,” she said.
Responding to a question, Nuland said US national Mansoor Ijaz’s planned appearance before a Pakistani court was a private affair and she was not going to discuss “any private meeting” at a State Department forum.
“We are not an organisation providing physical security, but we do advise US nationals about the conditions in any country and the laws there,” Nuland said when asked if the US embassy in Islamabad was going to provide security to Ijaz.