US military report shares blame on NATO bombing of Pakistani soldiers (VIDEO)

Relations between US and Pakistan have soured so much that the report on the NATO bombing is likely to have little effect. Instead, Pakistanis fret about rumors of a possible military coup.

Nadeem Soomro/Reuters
Protesters hold placards with the image of US President Barack Obama and the US Flag during an anti-American and anti-NATO demonstration in Larkana, Thursday. Pakistan is saying the NATO report on the bombardment of two Pakistani checkpoints is short on facts. The report placed blame on both the US and Pakistan.

A US military investigation into the Nov. 26 NATO bombardment of two Pakistani checkpoints has cast blame on both the Americans and the Pakistanis. The report, released yesterday, said that the Americans failed to share crucial information about their future military movements because its commanders didn’t trust their Pakistani counterparts, but also said that Pakistani troops fired on a joint US-Afghan patrol, even after the joint patrol identified itself.

NATO bombs killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, an event that worsened already bad relations between the two supposed allies. The report doesn’t appear to have improved matters. Pakistani military officials rejected the report, with Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas calling it “short on facts.”

Pakistan’s army does not agree with the findings of the US/Nato inquiry as being reported in the media,” Gen. Abbas told reporters in Islamabad. “The inquiry report is short on facts.”

The Nov. 26 incident occurred when a joint US-Afghan commando raid on a supposed militant camp on the Afghan-Pakistan border apparently stumbled onto a Pakistani paramilitary force instead. US investigators say the Afghans and Americans came under fire, and called in for air support when the Pakistani patrol continued to fire.

The Afghan-Pakistani border is notoriously porous and poorly marked, so in a sense, it is surprising that more of these events don’t occur. It is likely that the US and Afghan patrol would have operated with GPS equipment, with villages, border lines, and specific coordinates for their target clearly marked at all times. But the winding trails that border residents take to reach pastureland or marketplaces don’t respect boundaries, and it’s plausible that either the joint Afghan-US patrol and the Pakistani soldiers may have gone astray.

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The Nov. 26 NATO bombing attack couldn’t have come at a worse time in US-Pakistani relations. Many Pakistanis were already angered by a series of US military drone attacks within Pakistani airspace, the arrest of a CIA contractor Raymond Davis in a double-murder case, and finally, the US military raid, on Pakistani soil, that killed Al Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden in the town of Abbottabad on May 1.

As Monitor correspondents Issam Ahmed and Owais Tohid wrote in a May 2 story, Bin Laden’s presence a few hundred yards away from Pakistan’s military academy – nicknamed Pakistan’s West Point – gave suspicions that some members of Pakistan’s government must have known he was there. Yet while opinion polls show that only 9 percent of Pakistanis “liked” Bin Laden and 80 percent disliked him, the attack by US soldiers on Pakistani soil became transformed into a debate over Pakistani sovereignty.

US investigators in the NATO bombing incident say that it should have been clear to the Pakistani soldiers that they were firing on a US-Afghan coalition force and should have stood down.

Brig. Gen. Stephen Clark, an Air Force special operations officer who led the investigation, told reporters at a press conference that there was "an overarching lack of trust between the two sides" that prevented Pakistan and the US from giving each other specific details of their troops’ movements and locations.

Yet while the US appears to be attempting to set their relations with Pakistan back on course, a scan of Pakistani papers this morning shows that Pakistanis themselves have much bigger concerns. Most Pakistani papers lead with stories about rumors of a possible military coup.

In the Daily Times, Tanveer Ahmed quotes a "tirade" by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, warning the Army not to launch a coup.

“Conspiracies are being hatched to pack up the elected government,” Gilani told a gathering at the National Arts Gallery. He did not specifically blame the military, but later in the day he made clear in a speech to parliament that the army must operate under the control of the government. “They have to be answerable to this parliament,” Gilani said. “They cannot be a state within a state.” He called the army “disciplined”, saying that they “follow the constitution” and “will remain under the government”. 

In Dawn, a Reuters agency story reports that Pakistan Army Chief Gen. Ashraf Kayani told troops that the Army will continue to support democracy, and that coup rumors were just “speculation.”

And in the Nation, Pakistan’s Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry assured citizens that coups were not likely, since disputes could now be settled in a court that was trusted to be independent.

"Past are the days when the courts used to endorse unconstitutional measures; instead, we are sitting here to safeguard the Constitution," Justice Chaudhry was quoted as saying.

For the US and NATO, the worsening of relations with a frontline ally and the domestic instability within that country are both threats to the logistical flow of supplies to their bases in Afghanistan. More than half of all non-military supplies -- items like clothes, and food, and medicines -- are trucked through Pakistan after being offloaded at the Pakistani port of Karachi. But Pakistan banned any further shipment of NATO and US military supplies after the bombing raid. Thursday's investigation report will do little to change that. 

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