Monday, November 28, 2011

Anger Builds Against US As Pakistan Mulls Action Over Attack

November 28, 2011

Anger Builds Against U.S. as Pakistan Mulls Action Over Attack

New York Times

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani angrily protested the NATO strikes that killed two dozen Pakistani soldiers over the weekend, even as early American and Pakistani accounts of the events diverged sharply and it remained unclear exactly what precipitated that attack.

“Business as usual will not be there,” Mr. Gilani said of the already frayed relationship with the United States. “We have to have something bigger that satisfies my nation and entire country.” Mr. Gilani made his remarks in an interview on CNN, excerpts of which were prominently broadcast on Pakistani networks.

The Pakistani military spokesman, Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, rejected an account of the attack laid out by diplomats in Afghanistan and American officials in Washington.

The diplomats have said that the strike occurred when a joint NATO and Afghan force operating along the mountainous and heavily wooded border with Pakistan came under sustained fire late Friday or early Saturday and called in air support. The coalition forces tried to contact the Pakistani military on the other side of the border, the diplomats said, and believed they were free to fire back.

The Pakistani officials said they doubted the coalition forces were fired upon from Pakistan. “NATO forces should present proof if they were claiming that firing was started from Pakistani side,” General Abbas was quoted as saying by the local news media.

General Abbas said the United States had been provided with the location of all military checkpoints along the border, which is extremely porous and is not marked at several locations, especially in the Mohmand tribal region, where the attack occurred. The general also said that the region had been cleared of militants in an earlier operation and that Pakistan had erected “a large number of posts” that were intended “to enhance control in the area.”

Yet the NATO strike inside Pakistan went on for two hours and continued even after Pakistani officials had alerted allied officials, he said. “The soldiers deployed on these posts immediately informed the senior officers, who took up the issue with regional headquarters at Peshawar and general headquarters in Rawalpindi,” General Abbas said.

A United States official said there was growing frustration in Washington about the increasingly harsh language coming out of Islamabad, and he urged caution in accepting the Pakistanis’ account as fact.

“I’d definitely be careful if there’s someone out there saying they know what happened and says there was an attack for an hour or two hours or however long,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing the need not to personally alienate Pakistani officials.

“We’re all still trying to figure out exactly what happened,” the United States official said. “That includes Pakistan. They’re still working on this. I don’t think the details are clear to anyone right now — and definitely not the Pakistanis.”

Whether the joint NATO and Afghan force was taking fire from the vicinity of the Pakistani posts is “one of the things we’re still trying to determine,” the American official said.

Regarding the Pakistanis’ reaction, the official said, “You hear what they’re saying, and they’re making it sound like we’re just bombing Pakistani military positions for the hell of it.”

Another American official said that the units that came under attack along the border were part of the United States Special Operations Forces, which were accompanied by Afghan commandos, and that officials were investigating whether proper NATO protocols were followed before the strikes were called in.

He disputed the Pakistani assertions that the border posts were in areas that had been largely cleared of insurgents. The official said at least 40 Pakistani troops may have been in the area, perhaps anticipating attacks from Pakistani Taliban, who had sought shelter in Afghanistan.

On Sunday, David H. Petraeus, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, spoke to his Pakistani counterpart, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the head of the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, or the ISI.

A senior American military official said, meanwhile, that Gen. James N. Mattis, chief of the United States military’s Central Command, would appoint a senior-ranking officer to lead an inquiry into the airstrike. The inquiry will include a NATO representative and will examine what happened in the attack, which was operated out of Afghanistan, and how to prevent such a thing from occurring again, the official said.

Mr. Gilani offered no specifics about what actions he expected the United States and NATO to take, and it was not clear how Pakistan would further retaliate. Pakistani officials have already stopped NATO supplies from crossing the border into Afghanistan, and they have demanded that the C.I.A. stop the drone operation it runs from Shamsi Air Base, in western Pakistan, within 15 days.

A cabinet meeting has been called for Tuesday to assess the situation and chart Pakistan’s course of action, a government official said.

The relationship between the United States and Pakistan, already damaged last winter when a C.I.A. contractor killed two Pakistanis, plummeted after the cross-border mission that killed Osama bin Laden in May, and Mr. Gilani complained Monday about a lack of respect from the United States.

“If I can’t protect the sovereignty of my country, how we can say it is mutual respect and mutual interest?” he asked in the CNN interview.

Salman Masood reported from Islamabad, Pakistan, and Eric Schmitt from Washington. Matthew Rosenberg contributed reporting from Washington.

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