- Associated Press - Monday, January 23, 2012

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistan’s army on Monday formally rejected a U.S. claim that American airstrikes that killed 24 Pakistani troops last year were justified as self-defense, a stance that could complicate efforts to repair the troubled but vital relationship between the two countries.

In a detailed report, the army said that Pakistani troops did not trigger the Nov. 26 incident at two posts along the Afghan border by firing at American and Afghan forces, as the U.S. has alleged. Pakistan’s army said its troops shot at suspected militants who were nowhere near coalition troops.

“Trying to affix partial responsibility of the incident on Pakistan is, therefore, unjustified and unacceptable,” said the report, which was issued in response to a U.S. investigation that concluded at the end of December.

The U.S. expressed condolences for the deaths of the Pakistani soldiers but said American troops acted “with appropriate force” in self-defense because they thought they were being attacked by Taliban insurgents.

Pakistan responded quickly by closing its border crossings to supplies for NATO troops in Afghanistan. The borders have remained closed, and Pakistan also kicked the U.S. out of a base that was used to service American drones.

The differing accounts of what happened could make it difficult for the two sides to move forward, despite their interests. The U.S. needs Pakistan’s help in targeting Islamist militants within the country and negotiating peace with the Taliban in Afghanistan. Islamabad is heavily reliant on billions of dollars in aid from Washington.

Pakistan said the fundamental cause of the deadly airstrikes was the decision by coalition forces not to tell Pakistan that American and Afghan troops were conducting an operation near the border inside Afghanistan before dawn on Nov. 26.

Brig. Gen. Stephen Clark, an Air Force special operations officer who led the U.S. investigation, has said U.S. and NATO commanders believed some of their military operations were compromised after details and locations were given to the Pakistanis.

Gen. Clark also has said U.S. forces did not know that the two relatively new Pakistani outposts — simple structures constructed with stacked gray stones — had been set up on a mountain ridge along the border.

The Pakistani army countered that coalition forces must have known about the two posts set up at the end of September 2011 because they had conducted at least one other operation in the area afterward.

The army said previously that it provided NATO with maps clearly marking the location of the border posts, but that claim did not appear in its report.

The Pakistani army criticized the U.S. and NATO for “deep, varied and systematic” failures that prevented them from realizing they were targeting Pakistani forces over the course of three separate engagements that lasted more than two hours.

“In the process, every soldier on and around the posts, even on the reverse slope of the ridge, was individually targeted,” the Pakistani report said. “This pattern of engagement cannot be justified by calling it ‘self-defense.’”

The U.S. has acknowledged that its forces failed to determine who was firing at them and whether there were friendly forces in the area. The U.S. said its forces used incorrect maps and mistakenly provided Pakistan with the wrong location where they said fighting was taking place — an area almost nine miles away.

The Pakistani army accused coalition forces of showing “no urgency whatsoever in a situation where due to use of overwhelming and disproportionate force … lives were being lost.”

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