American military forces, "given what information they had available to them at the time, acted in self defense and with appropriate force after being fired upon" when they called for airstrikes along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in late November in an incident that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, the Pentagon said this morning.
"Nevertheless," the Defense Department also said in a statement about conclusions reached by its investigating officer, "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. This, coupled with other gaps in information about the activities and placement of units from both sides, contributed to the tragic result."
The incident damaged already frayed relations between the U.S. and Pakistan, which responded by closing some of its border crossings to U.S. military convoys moving in and out of Afghanistan.
This morning, The New York Times writes of the Pentagon report that:
"Even though it spread blame between both countries, the key finding of the investigation is likely to further enrage Pakistan: that the airstrikes were ultimately justified because Pakistani soldiers fired first on a joint team of Afghan and American special operations forces operating along the often poorly demarcated frontier between Afghanistan and Pakistan. ... Since the airstrikes, Pakistan has steadfastly insisted its forces did nothing wrong, and that they certainly did not fire the first shots."
In its statement, the Pentagon expresses "our deepest regret ... for the loss of life — and for the lack of proper coordination between U.S. and Pakistani forces that contributed to those losses."
"We further express sincere condolences to the Pakistani people, to the Pakistani government, and most importantly to the families of the Pakistani soldiers who were killed or wounded," the statement adds.
Then it goes on to acknowledge there is lack of trust between the U.S. and Pakistani militaries:
"Our focus now is to learn from these mistakes and take whatever corrective measures are required to ensure an incident like this is not repeated. The chain of command will consider any issues of accountability. More critically, we must work to improve the level of trust between our two countries. We cannot operate effectively on the border — or in other parts of our relationship — without addressing the fundamental trust still lacking between us. We earnestly hope the Pakistani military will join us in bridging that gap."