Pakistan’s army has formally rejected a US claim that the US airstrikes that killed 24 Pakistani troops last year were justified as self-defense, a stance that could complicate efforts to repair the troubled but vital relationship between the two countries.
In a detailed report released on Monday, the army said that Pakistani troops did not trigger the Nov. 26 incident at two posts along the Afghan border by firing at US and Afghan forces, as the US has alleged. Pakistan’s army said its troops shot at suspected militants who were nowhere near coalition troops.
“Trying to affix partial responsibility of the incident on Pakistan is, therefore, unjustified and unacceptable,” said the report, which was issued in response to the US investigation that concluded at the end of last month.
The US expressed condolences for the deaths of the Pakistani soldiers, but said US troops acted “with appropriate force” in self-defense because they thought they were being attacked by Taliban insurgents.
In Washington, US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the US stood by the “thorough” investigation into the Nov. 26 incident conducted by the military’s US Central Command.
“We did offer to the Pakistani government, to the Pakistani military, that they could participate fully in our investigation and have their own people on our team. They declined to participate. That could have led to more convergence of view, perhaps,” Nuland told a news briefing on Monday.
Pakistan responded quickly to the deadly attack by closing its border crossings to supplies for NATO troops in Afghanistan. The borders have remained closed, and Pakistan also kicked the US out of a base that was used to service US drones.
The differing accounts of what happened could make it difficult for the two sides to move forward, but many analysts believe they will find a way because it is in their own interests to do so.
The US needs Pakistan’s help in targeting Islamist militants within the country and negotiating peace with the Taliban in Afghanistan. Islamabad is heavily reliant on billions of US dollars in aid from Washington.
Pakistan said the fundamental cause of the deadly airstrikes was the decision by coalition forces not to tell Pakistan that US and Afghan troops were conducting an operation near the border inside Afghanistan before dawn on Nov. 26.
US Brigadier General Stephen Clark, an air force special operations officer who led the US investigation, has said US and NATO commanders believed some of their military operations were compromised after details and locations were given to the Pakistanis.
Clark has also said that US forces did not know that the two relatively new Pakistani outposts — simple structures constructed with stacked gray stones — had been set up on a mountain ridge along the border.
The Pakistani army countered that coalition forces must have known about the two posts set up at the end of September last year, because they had conducted at least one other operation in the area afterward. Coalition aircraft also conducted constant surveillance of the area, the Pakistanis said.
The army said previously that it provided NATO with maps clearly marking the location of the border posts, but that claim did not appear in its report.
The US has said its forces attacked the posts after Pakistani troops targeted them with heavy machine gun fire and “effective” mortar fire.