KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — An investigation into a NATO attack that killed 24 Pakistani troops last month near the Afghan border has concluded that a combination of mistrust and bad maps led to the airstrikes on two Pakistani outposts, the U.S. Department of Defense and a NATO official said on Thursday.
It’s unclear whether the report, which says mistakes were made on both sides, will reduce the tension between Pakistan and the U.S. over the incident. The Pakistani army has said its troops did nothing wrong and claimed the attack was a deliberate act of aggression.
A statement issued by the U.S. Department of Defense did not apologize for the attack, as the Pakistanis have demanded, and instead defended the actions of American forces.
“The report says we recognize we made mistakes, and that mistakes were also made by the Pakistanis,” said the NATO official, who could not be named because the Defense Department’s investigation has not yet been made public.
“We have a lot of work to do to improve coordination, and we’ve already implemented steps to do that,” the official said.
The Defense Department said in a statement Thursday that the investigation found that U.S. forces — given what information they had available to them at the time — reacted in self-defense and with appropriate force after being fired upon from the direction of the Pakistani border in the Nov. 26 incident.
“Inadequate coordination by U.S. and Pakistani military officers operating through the border coordination center — including our reliance on incorrect mapping information shared with the Pakistani liaison officer — resulted in a misunderstanding about the true location of Pakistani military units,” said the statement, which was released in Washington.
“This, coupled with other gaps in information about the activities and placement of units from both sides, contributed to the tragic result,” it said.
Pakistani officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the report. Afghan officials also had no immediate comment.
Gen. James Mattis, head of U.S. Central Command, appointed Brig. Gen. Stephen Clark, an Air Force special operations officer, to lead the investigation, and the results were expected to have been delivered to him on Dec. 23.
The Pakistani military has said it provided NATO with maps that clearly showed where the border posts were located. It also claimed NATO provided Pakistani liaison officers with the wrong coordinates when the coalition asked if there were any Pakistani troops in the area where the strikes took place.
In Mons, Belgium, NATO’s supreme military headquarters, a spokesman said the joint force was fired on by what it thought were insurgents “and legitimately responded in self-defense.”
Col. Gregory Julian said the investigation found that the response was legitimate within the laws of war and the troops’ own rules of engagement. He acknowledged that “a series of mistakes were made on both sides in failing to properly coordinate their locations and actions,” both before the operation and during the resulting engagement. He stressed that the joint unit “did not knowingly fire at the Pakistani forces.”
“The investigation has substantiated that close air support was employed in self-defense in response to intense, heavy machine-gun and mortar fire initiated by what turned out to be Pakistan forces near the border in the vicinity of Salala,” an area in Pakistan‘s Mohmand tribal region.