- The Washington Times - Friday, June 13, 2008

BRUSSELS | Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Thursday he has invited Afghanistan and Pakistan to be part of a U.S. investigation into an air strike that Pakistani officials say killed 11 of their troops.

The Pentagon chief said he thinks all the usual procedures were followed during the military operation against what other U.S. officials have called “anti-coalition forces” on the Afghan side of the border who fled to the Pakistan side of the border.

“We think all the procedures were followed. But that will be for the investigation to decide. And if we need to make changes, we will,” Mr. Gates said while attending a NATO meeting here.

“Pakistan is an incredibly important partner for us in this war on terror. And personally I regret we’ve … had an incident that has created a problem between us and the government of Pakistan.”

The top elected official in northwest Pakistan said Thursday the country should rethink its relationship with America.

Haider Khan Hoti, chief minister of North West Frontier Province, a restive region next to Afghanistan where Islamic militants are strong, said the air strike was “absolutely naked aggression.”

The U.S. and Pakistan remained at odds in their versions of the Tuesday night clash on the Afghan border that led to American planes dropping bombs on insurgents who had staged an attack inside Afghanistan.

President Bush’s national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, said it was not clear exactly what happened and American officials “have not been able to corroborate” that Pakistani troops died. The U.S. “would be very saddened” if that were true, Mr. Hadley told reporters traveling with Mr. Bush in Rome.

Mr. Hadley said the account the U.S. believes is true is this: There was an operation on the Afghan side of the border by “anti-coalition forces” that threatened coalition personnel. The forces then went “back into Pakistan” and the coalition fighters “tracked and struck those forces.”

“That’s what we believe happened,” Mr. Hadley said.

The U.S. military on Thursday released excerpts of a video shot by a surveillance drone circling above the mountainous battle zone. But it appears to show only a part of what happened Tuesday.

The grainy images show about a half-dozen men firing from a ridge at coalition troops off-camera in a valley below. A voiceover said the ridge was in Afghanistan and that the coalition forces were on a reconnaissance mission.

The video shows the “anti-Afghan militants” moving to a position identified as inside Pakistan; the impact of a bomb which the voiceover says killed two of them; then three more bombs, one of which fell off screen. The voiceover said all militants were killed and U.S. officials said about a dozen bombs were dropped in all.

The video does not show the bombing of any buildings - which the Air Force reported in a separate release to the press.

Three Pentagon officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said the central question in the view of the U.S. military is, who were those killed and where did they come from?

One official said it was possible they were Frontier Corps troops who were doing their job and had not been notified to get out of the way of the fighting, or were Frontier Corps troops aiding insurgents. He acknowledged that there also could have been a U.S. error in the bombing.

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