The U.S. military said Thursday that U.S. and Pakistani forces both made mistakes in a U.S. helicopter attack that killed two dozen Pakistani troops in November along the Afghan-Pakistan border.
The Pentagon released the findings of its investigation that said a lack of trust, miscommunication and faulty map information all contributed to the shooting.
“For the loss of life and lack of coordination between U.S. and Pakistani forces that contributed to those losses, we express our deepest regret,” said Pentagon spokesman George Little.
Brig. Gen. Stephen Clark, who oversaw the Pentagon investigation, said a team of U.S. and Afghan commandos was on the ground in the eastern part of Afghanistan, near the border with Pakistan.
They were about to conduct a raid on an Afghan village when they started getting hit by “very direct and heavy machine-gun fire over their head … coming from the ridgeline.”
Pakistan has been saying that U.S. troops fired first. But the Pentagon’s report says the U.S. team fired in self-defense. Clark said the Americans radioed headquarters to ask if there were any Pakistani military in the area. They were told no — so they called in attack helicopters to retaliate.
“They never anticipated taking fire from the ridgeline,” Clark said. The American troops thought “this was a hostile force, an insurgent force occupying high ground, shooting down at them.”
No Trust, Bad Information
The Pentagon report points out two major problems. First, the U.S. mistakenly gave Pakistan the wrong location of the attack.
As a result, the Pakistanis told the Americans that there were no Pakistani troops in that area. But based on the American information, the Pakistanis were talking about a different area nine miles away from where the shooting was actually taking place.
The second mistake, according to the report, is that Pakistan had not told NATO that it was moving troops into that area in the first place.
Clark says Pakistanis don’t always share their troop movements with the U.S., and the Americans doesn’t always tell Pakistan about U.S. military plans.
American troops “are under the impression that when they have shared specifics, that some of their operations have been compromised,” Clark said.
Little, the Pentagon spokesman, added, “We cannot act effectively along the border or in other parts of our relationship without addressing the fundamental trust still lacking between us.”
Trust between the two sides has been shrinking for some time. There was a stark example in May, when the U.S. did not inform Pakistan about the raid that killed Osama bin Laden deep inside Pakistani territory.
“If you had had this kind of tragic incident several years ago, there was at least some ballast in the relationship that would have kept things on track,” said Dan Markey, an expert on Pakistan with the Council on Foreign Relations.
But now, he says, the relationship is in real jeopardy after the bin Laden raid and a series of other high-profile standoffs between the U.S. and Pakistan. The Obama administration is hoping that by accepting some responsibility for last month’s shooting, it can begin to rebuild the relationship with Pakistan.