- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 22, 2011

The U.S. military on Thursday acknowledged serious mistakes in a cross-border operation last month that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers and strained ties with the South Asian nation, but said U.S. forces had acted in self-defense.

An investigation into the Nov. 26 incident in Pakistan’s Mohmand area concluded that inadequate coordination between U.S. and Pakistani officers, and reliance on incorrect map coordinates resulted in a “misunderstanding,” the Pentagon said in a statement.

Air Force Brig. Gen. Stephen A. Clark, who led the investigation into the incident, found that there was no intentional effort to target Pakistani troops or to provide inaccurate coordinates to the Pakistanis.

He also found that U.S. forces “acted in self-defense and with appropriate force after being fired upon,” the Pentagon said.

The two Pakistani military outposts were located atop a barren ridgeline.

U.S. ground troops operating in the area came under direct, heavy machine-gun fire that they determined was coming from the ridgeline and then called in air support, Gen. Clark told reporters at the Pentagon via teleconference.

Pakistani officials have denied that Pakistani troops fired first or that there was hostile fire in the area before the NATO assault.

A Pakistani official told The Washington Times on Thursday that the report’s conclusion that U.S. troops were responding to hostile fire is false.

“On our part, we are clear and sure of what happened on that evening,” said the Pakistani official, who spoke on background citing the sensitive nature of the subject.

“What the report concludes contradicts our position,” the official added.

The incident drew a sharp response from the Pakistani government. Pakistan shut down NATO’s supply lines into Afghanistan, kicked the U.S. out of an air base from where drone strikes were launched against terror suspects, and boycotted a conference on Afghanistan reconstruction in Bonn earlier this month.

Pakistan also refused to participate in the Pentagon investigation, which was conducted by U.S., NATO and Afghan officials.

Pakistani officials gave detailed briefings to reporters in Islamabad and Washington on their version of the incident, saying NATO forces deliberately attacked the two Pakistani army posts and ignored rules of cooperation.

A Pakistani official, who briefed reporters on background last week, said the Pakistani military in September had cleared all terrorists from the area where the incident took place.

The two military outposts are located atop a barren ridge, which terrorists would not use as a hideout, he said.

NATO, Afghan and Pakistani forces share information and coordinate security operations through joint border control centers.

Pakistan has demanded an apology for the incident; the Pentagon did not apologize but expressed “deepest regret.”

The results of the investigation have been shared with the Pakistani and Afghan governments, as well as NATO leadership.