- The Washington Times - Friday, June 13, 2008

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) - Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday he has invited Afghanistan and Pakistan to be part of a U.S. investigation into an airstrike that Pakistani officials say killed 11 of their troops.

The Pentagon chief said he believes 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,” 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 airstrike was “absolutely naked aggression.”

“After condemnation, we should do some serious rethinking of the ties that we have, because on the one side in the war on terror we are expected to offer them cooperation and on the other hand our security forces are being targeted,” Hoti said in Peshawar.

In Washington, a State Department official, Don Camp, told a Senate Homeland Security subcommittee that “Pakistan’s government must bring the frontier area under its control.”

Camp offered assurances that the new Pakistani government had renewed a commitment of its predecessors to the war on terrorism, that “terrorists are their enemies, as well.”

The subcommittee chairman, Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., said “most national security experts agree that Pakistan is the most dangerous country in the world today.”

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 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, Stephen Hadley told reporters traveling with Bush in Rome.

Hadley said that 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,” 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 it was 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 13 bombs were dropped in all.

According to a defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the reports are not public, a B-1 bomber dropped nine bombs, including three 2,000-pound precision-guided “smart bombs.” At least one of the three larger bombs was launched early on and is shown in the initial part of the video, but most of the B-1 bombings are not shown.

F-15E fighter jets dropped the four bombs fired after the militants had moved farther inside Pakistan, killing a number of the militants, the official said.

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

“An Air Force B-1B Lancer and F-15Es dropped guided bomb(s) …. to destroy anti-coalition members in the open and in buildings,” U.S. Air Force Central Command said in Wednesday’s version of its daily summary of activities.

The video also does not show the nine 105 mm cannon rounds that were fired from a nearby coalition base before the B-1 and the fighter jets arrived.

Asked Thursday if video of any airstrikes on buildings would be released, Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman said: “I don’t know if other video exists.”

Like Hadley, Whitman said it had not been determined whether the strike killed Pakistani forces.

Three other Pentagon officials speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue said that remains the central question in the view of the U.S. military: Who were those killed and where did they come from?

One official said the options include the possibility 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 Frontier Corps troops “in the pocket of the Taliban to look the other way” or Frontier Corps “actively participating” with insurgents in the fight against coalition forces.

He acknowledged that there also could have been a U.S. error in the bombing.

_________

Associated Press writers Pauline Jelinek and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington and Jennifer Loven in Rome contributed to this report.

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