The U.S.-Pakistani "alliance" is in its greatest crisis yet after an early morning NATO strike on two border checkpoints killed 24 Pakistani soldiers early Saturday morning, the Washington Post reported. -- Pakistan accused NATO of "aggression" against its forces, Karin Brulliard said. -- "The Pakistani government has demanded the United States vacate an air base within 15 days," MSNBC reported, saying the U.S. had killed "up to 28 Pakistani soldiers." -- The base in question is Shamsi Air Base in southwestern Baluchistan, which the U.S. has used to launch armed drones and observation aircraft. -- "About 40 Pakistani army troops were stationed at the outpost, military sources said. Two officers were reported among the dead." -- The London Guardian reported that a "senior Western official" in Kabul claimed that the NATO attack had been "an act of self-defense." -- But "[a]ccording to Pakistani officials the 40 or so soldiers stationed at the outposts were asleep at the time of the attack," Jon Boone said. -- "Pakistan shut down NATO supply routes into Afghanistan -- used for sending in nearly half of the alliance's land shipments -- in retaliation," Reuters reported. -- COMMENT: All of these articles fail our rule of thumb for reporting about the Afghan-Pakistan border, which is that failure to point out that most of the Pashtuns who live in that area regard that border, which is based on the 1893 Durand line (mentioned briefly in one article) as illegitimate makes reporting on these matters unintelligible. -- UFPPC said two and a half years ago that the Obama administration's supposedly "new" policy on Afghanistan and Pakistan was "foredoomed to failure," and we were right. -- There is not "a single group, region, or sector of Afghanistan or Pakistan that sympathizes with or that will promote American interests in the region," we noted, pointing out that U.S. drone attacks are ensuring "that successive generations of Pakistani military officers will be viscerally anti-American." ...
PAKISTANI OFFICIALS SAYS ALLEGED NATO ATTACK KILLS 24 SOLDIERS
By Karin Brulliard
November 25, 2011 (updated Nov. 26)
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- The Pakistani military Saturday said that NATO helicopters and fighter jets had fired on two border checkpoints and killed 24 soldiers, an incident that sent the two nations’ uneasy alliance into new crisis and fanned domestic criticism of Pakistan’s cooperation with the American war effort in Afghanistan.
Pakistan issued swift and furious condemnations of the early morning strike in the Mohmand tribal region along the Afghan border, which the military deemed unprovoked “aggression.” Within hours of the incident, Pakistan responded by shutting down the two border crossings used by trucks to ferry about half of supplies to coalition troops fighting in Afghanistan. Pakistan does not allow those coalition forces to enter or fire inside its territory.
The strike, which NATO officials in Kabul said was being investigated, came toward the end of a year in which the bilateral relationship has suffered unprecedented blows, including the American raid to kill Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in May. As it did in that operation, Pakistan condemned the Saturday strike as an intolerable breach of sovereignty, one officials and politicians said demonstrated American disregard for Pakistani life and would stoke terrorism.
A senior military official in Washington said that “everybody is taking this very, very seriously. There’s no question about that.” The official and others, who would not speak on the record about the sensitive issue, said the incident followed months of tension along the border as a U.S. offensive against Pakistani-based insurgents in eastern Afghanistan has been underway.
During previous exchanges of ground fire across the border, Pakistani officials have said that any firing from their side came from insurgents, not Pakistani troops. Although Pakistan has said Saturday’s incident was unprovoked, the sequence of events remained unclear to U.S. officials, who said that initial indications were that U.S. and Afghan troops came under fire from the Pakistani side and called in air support.
The two countries have weathered the past crises, citing a mutually dependent relationship in which Pakistan receives billions of dollars in aid and the United States gains supply routes and assistance fighting militants. U.S. and Pakistani officials say relations have improved since the October visit of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who prodded Pakistan to aggressively target insurgents in the tribal areas but also asked for Pakistani assistance in potential peace talks with the Taliban.
Last year, Pakistan shut down the Torkham border crossing for 10 days after a NATO airstrike killed two Pakistani soldiers. The United States apologized after a joint investigation that deemed the incident an accident.
But the alleged death toll in Saturday’s strike would be the largest of any similar incident in the two nations’ decade-long alliance, and Pakistani officials indicated that they would be less willing to forgive.
The powerful army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, demanded in a statement that “all necessary steps be undertaken for an effective response to this irresponsible act.” The Pakistani government said it was “deeply incensed” and warned that the strike could have “serious repercussions” on Pakistan’s cooperation with the United States and international forces in Afghanistan. After a late-night meeting, the cabinet’s defense committee indicated that the border crossings would be closed indefinitely.
Both the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron Munter, and the commander of the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen, expressed regret for Pakistani casualties.
“This incident has my highest personal attention and my commitment to thoroughly investigate it to determine the facts,” Allen said in a statement. “My most sincere and personal heartfelt condolences go out to the families and loved ones of any members of Pakistan Security Forces who may have been killed or injured.”
The defense committee, in a statement, also pledged to make U.S. military personnel vacate an air base in southwestern Pakistan within 15 days. U.S. drone aircraft attacking western Pakistan had flown from a small airstrip at the Shamsi base. Since April, all U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan have been flown from bases in Afghanistan, but a small contingent of fewer that a dozen Americans had remained at Shamsi. A U.S. Embassy spokesman could not be reached for comment on Saturday’s statement.
The poorly patrolled and ill-marked border is the central sore point in Pakistan’s relations with both the United States and Afghanistan. American military officials say al-Qaeda and Afghan Taliban fighters live on the Pakistani side and cross the border to attack U.S. troops -- with some knowledge and help of Pakistani intelligence. Pakistan says the homegrown militants its army is fighting in the restive tribal areas can easily find refuge in eastern Afghanistan, which borders Mohmand, and that CIA drone strikes in the region inspire militants.
The Saturday airstrike came one day after Allen met with Kayani to discuss border coordination and control.
The strike took place in the village of Salala and injured 13 troops, the military said. A private Pakistani television network aired video of camouflage-clad soldiers at a chaotic scene, some of whom were lying on cots and appeared to be wounded.
Pakistan closed both the Torkham and Chaman passes in response to the attack. Idling Afghanistan-bound trucks lined up at the frontiers, and their Pakistani drivers said they worried that the vehicles would be attacked by militants.
The airstrike seemed certain to stoke anti-American sentiment in Pakistan, where many view the United States as an enemy and blame it for an increase in deadly militant attacks across Pakistan. That stance has become more prominent with the rising popularity of cricket star-turned-politician Imran Khan, who told thousands of supporters at a rally Saturday that it was time to end the alliance with the United States.
“Americans are attacking and killing our soldiers,” Khan said. “We have been crying for a long time that this is not our war.”
Staff writer Karen DeYoung in Washington, special correspondent Haq Nawaz Khan in Peshawar, Pakistan, and correspondent Joshua Partlow in Kabul contributed to this report.
PAKISTAN DEMANDS U.S. VACATE AIR BASE AFTER DEADLY STRIKES
By NBC, msnbc.com & news services
November 26, 2011
The Pakistani government has demanded the United States vacate an air base within 15 days after blaming NATO air forces for the fatal attack on military outposts in northwest Pakistan.
The government issued the demand Saturday after NATO helicopters and jet fighters allegedly attacked two Pakistan army posts along the Afghan border, killing up to 28 Pakistani soldiers and plunging U.S.-Pakistan relations deeper into crisis.
Pakistan initially retaliated by shutting down vital NATO supply routes into Afghanistan, used for sending in nearly half of the alliance's shipments by land.
The White House said senior U.S. civilian and military officials extended condolences to their Pakistani counterparts following the airstrike. The unidentified officials also expressed a desire to work with Pakistan to investigate the deaths.
Islamabad outlined its latest demand in a statement it sent to reporters following an emergency defense committee meeting chaired by Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.
Shamsi Air Base is located in southwestern Baluchistan province. The U.S. is suspected of using the facility in the past to launch armed drones and observation aircraft to keep pressure on Taliban and al-Qaida militants in Pakistan's tribal region.
In a statement sent earlier to reporters, the Pakistan military blamed NATO for Friday's attack in the Mohmand tribal area, saying helicopters "carried out unprovoked and indiscriminate firing."
Masood Kasur, the governor of Pakistan's northwestern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, said the raid was "an attack on Pakistan's territorial sovereignty."
"Such cross-border attacks cannot be tolerated any more. The government will take up this matter at the highest level and it will be investigated," he said.
The attack comes as relations between the United States and Pakistan -- its ally in the war on militancy -- are already strained following the killing of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden by U.S. special forces in a secret raid on the Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad in May.
"Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani has condemned in the strongest terms the NATO/ISAF attack on the Pakistani post," Pakistan foreign ministry spokeswoman Tehmina Janjua said in a statement.
"On his direction, the matter is being taken (up) by the foreign ministry in the strongest terms with NATO and the U.S.," the spokesman said.
'CANNOT BE TOLERATED'
The powerful Chief of Army Staff, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, said in a statement issued by the Pakistani military that "all necessary steps be under taken for an effective response to this irresponsible act."
Two military officials told Reuters that up to 28 troops had been killed and 11 wounded in the attack on the Salala checkpoint, about 1.5 miles from the Afghan border in the Baizai area of Mohmand, where Pakistani troops are fighting Taliban militants.
However, a Pakistan Army statement put the death toll at 24 with 13 injured. It said that Pakistan troops had "responded immediately in self defense to NATO/ISAF's aggression with all available weapons."
The army statement said NATO helicopters and fighter aircraft were involved in the attack, which took place around 2:00 a.m. Saturday local time (4:00 p.m. Friday ET).
The commander of NATO-led forces in Afghanistan, General John R. Allen, said he had offered his condolences to the family of any Pakistani soldiers who "may have been killed or injured" during an "incident" on the border.
A spokesman for the force declined further comment on the nature of the "incident" and said an investigation was proceeding. It was not yet clear, he said, whether there had been deaths or injuries.
The raid is the largest and most serious incident of its kind. A similar incident on Sept 30, 2009, which killed two Pakistani troops, led to the closure of one of NATO's supply routes through Pakistan for 10 days.
The U.S. embassy in Islamabad also offered condolences. "I regret the loss of life of any Pakistani servicemen, and pledge that the United States will work closely with Pakistan to investigate this incident," ambassador Cameron Munter said in a statement.
Colonel Gary Kolb, spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Kabul, said the aircraft were taking part in a strike that was a coordinated effort with ISAF, Pakistani military and the Pakistani border authorities, NBC News reported.
He said they had responded to small arms fire, according to NBC News. Asked to confirm that it was retaliatory, he said yes.
ISAF was still determining the exact circumstances. "This has the highest priority to ensure that we get all the facts straight," Kolb said, NBC News reported.
He noted that even if some of supply routes through Pakistan were closed, there were "contingencies built into the system" to deal with these types of disruptions.
About 40 Pakistani army troops were stationed at the outpost, military sources said. Two officers were reported among the dead.
A senior Pakistani military officer said efforts were under way to bring the bodies of the slain soldiers to Ghalanai, the headquarters of Mohmand tribal region.
"The latest attack by NATO forces on our post will have serious repercussions as they without any reasons attacked on our post and killed soldiers asleep," he said, requesting anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
40 TRUCKS HALTED
NATO supply trucks and fuel tankers bound for Afghanistan were stopped at Jamrud town in the Khyber tribal region near the city of Peshawar hours after the raid, officials said.
"We have halted the supplies and some 40 tankers and trucks have been returned from the check post in Jamrud," Mutahir Zeb, a senior government official, told Reuters.
Another official said the supplies had been stopped for security reasons.
"There is possibility of attacks on NATO supplies passing through the volatile Khyber tribal region, therefore we sent them back towards Peshawar to remain safe," he said.
Much of the violence in Afghanistan against Afghan, NATO, and U.S. troops is carried out by insurgents that are based just across the border in Pakistan.
Coalition forces are not allowed to cross the frontier to attack the militants, which sometimes fire artillery and rockets across the line.
American officials have repeatedly accused Pakistani forces of supporting -- or turning a blind eye -- to militants using its territory for cross-border attacks.
The Afghanistan-Pakistan border is often poorly marked, and differs between maps by up to five miles in some places.
Pakistan is a vital land route for 49 percent of NATO's supplies to its troops in Afghanistan, a NATO spokesman said.
NATO apologized for that incident, which it said happened when NATO gunships mistook warning shots by the Pakistani forces for a militant attack.
The attack is expected to further worsen U.S.-Pakistan relations, already at one of their lowest points in history, following a tumultuous year that saw the bin Laden raid, the jailing of a CIA contractor, and U.S. accusations that Pakistan backed a militant attack on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.
An increase in U.S. drone strikes on militants in the last few years has also irritated Islamabad, which says the campaign kills more Pakistani civilians in the border area than activists. Washington disputes that, but declines to discuss the drone campaign in detail.
--NBC News' Atia Abawi in Kabul, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this story.
NATO AIR ATTACK ON PAKISTANI TROOPS WAS SELF-DEFENSE, SAYS SENIOR WESTERN OFFICIAL
By Jon Boone
** US-Pakistan relations strained further after attack allegedly kills up to 28 and prompts ban on Nato trucks crossing Afghan border **
November 26, 2011
An attack by NATO aircraft on Pakistani troops that allegedly killed as many as 28 soldiers and looks set to further poison relations between the U.S. and Pakistan was an act of self-defense, a senior Western official has claimed.
According to the Kabul-based official, a joint U.S.-Afghan force operating in the mountainous Afghan frontier province of Kunar was the first to come under attack in the early hours of Saturday morning, forcing them to return fire.
The high death toll from an incident between two supposed allies suggests NATO helicopters and jets strafed Pakistani positions with heavy weapons.
The deadliest friendly fire incident since the start of the decade-long war also prompted Pakistan to ban NATO supply trucks from crossing into Afghanistan and to issue an order demanding the U.S. quit the remote Shamsi airbase, from which the U.S. has operated some unmanned drone aircraft.
A spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said it was "highly likely" that aircraft which had been called into the area to provide "close air support" to troops on the ground was responsible for causing casualties among the Pakistani soldiers.
For their part, a statement by the Pakistani military claimed that it was they who were attacked first, forcing them to respond to NATO's "aggression with all available weapons."
According to Pakistani officials the 40 or so soldiers stationed at the outposts were asleep at the time of the attack. Government officials said the two border posts that were attacked had recently been established to try to stop insurgents who use bases in Afghanistan to attack Pakistan from crossing the border and launching attacks.
Afghan intelligence say the U.S.-Afghan force was conducting operations against suspected Taliban training camps in the area.
The vagueness of the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan is one potential, and relatively innocent, explanation for the incident. Drawn up by the British Raj in 1893, there is little agreement on where the so-called Durand Line actually falls, meaning troops from either side of the border can wander into the neighboring country without realizing it. One senior military official said that, in places, rival maps have discrepancies of "multiples of kilometers -- sometimes as much as five kilometers".
Much of the fighting in Afghanistan is conducted by guerrillas based a short distance inside Pakistan. NATO forces are not allowed to cross the border and militants sometimes fire artillery and rockets across the line from locations close to Pakistani army posts.
And yet both sides have worked hard to try and minimize any confusion. The attack happened just a day after John Allen, the U.S. commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, met with Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, the Pakistani army chief, to discuss enhanced co-operation on the border.
But a more troubling explanation would be that insurgents in the area were operating under the nose of Pakistani security forces. Many Afghan officials believe Pakistan helps the Taliban with cross-border operations.
Edrees Momand of the Afghan Border Police said that a U.S.-Afghan force in the area near the Pakistani outposts detained several militants on Saturday morning.
"I am not aware of the casualties on the other side of the border but those we have detained aren't Afghan Taliban," he said, implying they may have been Pakistani or other foreign national Taliban operating in Afghanistan.
Whatever the outcome of investigations, the incident is likely to do yet more damage to the critical relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan. The alliance between the two countries has been repeatedly battered in the past year, first by the jailing of a CIA contractor and then by U.S. special forces who raided deep inside Pakistani territory and killed Osama bin Laden.
More recently the U.S. has accused Pakistan of backing a militant group who launched a 20-hour attack on the U.S. embassy in Kabul.
Washington believes Pakistan continues to support the Taliban, a movement it publicly backed in the 1990s, in order to have influence in Afghanistan. But at the same time as supporting the enemies of the U.S., Pakistan remains crucial to the military mission in Afghanistan.
John Allen was quick to release a statement saying the incident had his "highest personal attention."
"My most sincere and personal heartfelt condolences go out to the families and loved ones of any members of Pakistan security forces who may have been killed or injured," he said.
Islamabad reacted with fury to the attack.
"This is an attack on Pakistan's sovereignty," said Pakistan's prime minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani. "We will not let any harm come to Pakistan's sovereignty and solidarity."
In a statement General Kayani promised "all necessary steps be undertaken for an effective response to this irresponsible act.
"A strong protest has been launched with NATO/ISAF in which it has been demanded that strong and urgent action be taken against those responsible for this aggression."
A cabinet committee convened by Gilani said the government would launch a complete review of its diplomatic, political, military, and intelligence relationships with the U.S.
The vast bulk of NATO supplies arrive in Afghanistan by trucks that haul equipment up from the port of Karachi to the Khyber Pass, a key crossing point over the mountainous border into Afghanistan.
The shutting down of the border to NATO traffic has happened in the past during periods of Pakistani displeasure with Afghanistan and its foreign backers.
A similar incident last year in which two Pakistani troops were killed led to the closure of one of NATO's supply routes for ten days.
However, in recent years the alliance has opened up alternative supply routes through Central Asia, reducing its reliance on the route through Pakistan.
PAKISTAN STOPS NATO SUPPLIES AFTER DEADLY RAID
By Shams Momand
November 26, 2011
NATO helicopters and fighter jets attacked two military outposts in northwest Pakistan Saturday, killing as many as 28 troops and plunging U.S.-Pakistan relations deeper into crisis.
Pakistan shut down NATO supply routes into Afghanistan -- used for sending in nearly half of the alliance's land shipments -- in retaliation for the worst such incident since Islamabad uneasily allied itself with Washington following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
Islamabad also said it had ordered the United States to vacate a drone base in the country, but a senior U.S. official said Washington had received no such request and noted that Pakistan had made similar eviction threats in the past, without following through.
NATO and U.S. officials expressed regret about the deaths of the Pakistani soldiers, indicating the attack may have been an error; but the exact circumstances remained unclear.
"Senior U.S. civilian and military officials have been in touch with their Pakistani counterparts from Islamabad, Kabul and Washington to express our condolences, our desire to work together to determine what took place, and our commitment to the U.S.-Pakistan partnership which advances our shared interests, including fighting terrorism in the region," said White House national security council spokesman Tommy Vieter.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar spoke by telephone, as did General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Pakistani Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.
The NATO-led force in Afghanistan confirmed that NATO aircraft had probably killed Pakistani soldiers in an area close to the Afghan-Pakistani border.
"Close air support was called in, in the development of the tactical situation, and it is what highly likely caused the Pakistan casualties," said General Carsten Jacobson, spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
He added he could not confirm the number of casualties, but ISAF was investigating. "We are aware that Pakistani soldiers perished. We don't know the size, the magnitude," he said.
Pakistan's Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani said the killings were "an attack on Pakistan's sovereignty," adding: "We will not let any harm come to Pakistan's sovereignty and solidarity."
Pakistan's Foreign Office said it would take up the matter "in the strongest terms" with NATO and the United States, while army chief Kayani said steps would be taken to respond "to this irresponsible act."
"A strong protest has been launched with NATO/ISAF in which it has been demanded that strong and urgent action be taken against those responsible for this aggression."
Two military officials said up to 28 troops had been killed and 11 wounded in the attack on the outposts, about 2.5 km (1.5 miles) from the Afghan border. The Pakistani military said 24 troops were killed and 13 wounded.
The attack took place around 2:00 a.m. (2100 GMT) in the Baizai area of Mohmand, where Pakistani troops are fighting Taliban militants. Across the border is Afghanistan's Kunar province, which has seen years of heavy fighting.
"Pakistani troops effectively responded immediately in self-defense to NATO/ISAF's aggression with all available weapons," the Pakistani military statement said.
The commander of NATO-led forces in Afghanistan, General John R. Allen, offered his condolences to the families of Pakistani soldiers who "may have been killed or injured."
Dempsey's spokesman, Colonel David Lapan, could not confirm the closure of the Pakistani border crossing to trucks carrying supplies for ISAF forces. However, he noted that "if true, we have alternate routes we can use, as we have in the past."
Around 40 troops were stationed at the outposts, military sources said. Two officers were reported among the dead. "They without any reasons attacked on our post and killed soldiers asleep," said a senior Pakistani officer, requesting anonymity.
The border is often poorly marked, and Afghan and Pakistani maps have differences of several kilometres in some places, military officials have said.
However, Pakistani military spokesman Major-General Athar Abbas said NATO had been given maps of the area, with Pakistani military posts identified.
"When the other side is saying there is a doubt about this, there is no doubt about it. These posts have been marked and handed over to the other side for marking on their maps and are clearly inside Pakistani territory."
The incident occurred a day after Allen met Kayani to discuss border control and enhanced cooperation.
A senior military source told Reuters that after the meeting that set out "to build confidence and trust, these kind of attacks should not have taken place."
Pakistan is a vital land route for nearly half of NATO supplies shipped overland to its troops in Afghanistan, a NATO spokesman said. Land shipments account for about two thirds of the alliance's cargo shipments into Afghanistan.
Hours after the raid, NATO supply trucks and fuel tankers bound for Afghanistan were stopped at Jamrud town in the Khyber tribal region near the city of Peshawar, officials said.
The border crossing at Chaman in southwestern Baluchistan province was also closed, Frontier Corps officials said.
A meeting of the cabinet's defense committee convened by Gilani "decided to close with immediate effect NATO/ISAF logistics supply lines," according to a statement issued by Gilani's office.
The committee decided to ask the United States to vacate, within 15 days, the Shamsi Air Base, a remote installation in Baluchistan used by U.S. forces for drone strikes which has long been at the center of a dispute between Islamabad and Washington.
The meeting also decided the government would "revisit and undertake a complete review of all programs, activities and cooperative arrangements with US/NATO/ISAF, including diplomatic, political, military and intelligence."
A similar incident on Sept 30, 2010, which killed two Pakistani service personnel, led to the closure of one of NATO's supply routes through Pakistan for 10 days. NATO apologized for that incident, which it said happened when NATO gunships mistook warning shots by Pakistani forces for a militant attack.
Relations between the United States and Pakistan were strained by the killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden by U.S. special forces in Pakistan in May, which Pakistan called a flagrant violation of sovereignty.
Pakistan's jailing of a CIA contractor and U.S. accusations that Pakistan backed a militant attack on the U.S. embassy in Kabul have added to the tensions.
"This will have a catastrophic effect on Pakistan-U.S. relations. The public in Pakistan are going to go berserk on this," said Charles Heyman, senior defense analyst at British military website Armedforces.co.uk.
Other analysts, including Rustam Shah Mohmand, a former ambassador to Afghanistan, predicted Pakistan would protest and close the supply lines for some time, but that ultimately "things will get back to normal."
(Additional reporting by Bushra Takseen, Saud Mehsud, Jibran Ahmad and Saeed Achakzai in Pakistan, Tim Castle in London, Warren Strobel in Washington and Hamid Shalizi and Christine Kearney in Afghanistan;
Writing by Augustine Anthony, Chris Allbritton and Emma Graham-Harrison; Editing by Andrew Roche and David Stamp)