U.S. air strike linked to database gap
A U.S. air strike that killed 11 Pakistani soldiers in June was the result of an incomplete U.S. military database that did not include the location of the soldiers' post near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, U.S. and Pakistani officials said on Wednesday.
The officials, who spoke in separate interviews on condition of anonymity, said the preliminary results of a joint U.S.-Pakistani probe show the military post's location just inside Pakistan was never entered into the database, which was designed to prevent attacks on friendly forces in the area, Reuters reported.
One U.S. official emphasized the investigation has not been formally completed and the findings could still be subject to change. The results could be released formally as early as Thursday with an accompanying joint statement by the U.S. and Pakistani governments.
But the findings have also stirred new disagreement between Washington and Islamabad about whether Pakistan provided the post's grid location to the Americans and U.S. officials saying they did not have the location when the air strike occurred on June 10.
"The data on the geo-coordinates of all 997 posts deployed by Pakistan on Pakistan's side of the border was shared with the United States," a Pakistani official said.
The June 10 incident, which added pressure to already strained U.S. relations with the new Pakistan government, occurred along Afghanistan's eastern border with Pakistan where U.S. officials say cross-border attacks have escalated since Islamabad began seeking peace deals with local militants.
At the time of the air strike, the U.S. military said it was battling militants that had attacked American troops in Afghanistan and retreated across the border into Pakistan.
The 11 killed were from Pakistan's paramilitary Frontier Corps, which the U.S. military hopes to train as an effective counterinsurgency force in the tribal badlands of northwestern Pakistan, where the Bush administration says there has been a resurgence of Taliban and al Qaeda activity.
Three days after the attack, the United States and Pakistan announced a joint investigation into the attack.
An official at the Pakistan Embassy in Washington could not confirm the investigation's findings but said the incident underscored the need for greater intelligence and military cooperation along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
A U.S. military spokesman declined to comment on preliminary findings, first reported on Wednesday by the New York Times.
"The investigation is still ongoing," said Army Capt. Christian Patterson of the U.S. military's Combined Joint Task Force-101 at Bagram air field in Afghanistan. "It hasn't been completed."
Pakistan disagrees with findings that the Pakistani forces may have been intermingled with insurgents who had crossed back into Pakistan after firing on U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
It also denies U.S. assertions that a Pakistan liaison officer approved of the air strike.
"There are areas of nonconcurrence," the Pakistani official said. "But Pakistan is very conscious of the fact that one isolated incident should not and will not be allowed to become a stumbling block in our relationship as a whole."