US Moves to limit fallout from Pak attack that killed 28, while UK NATO sources claim attack was in self-defense

The US and NATO are on the defensive in Pakistan, where a NATO attack has killed  28 Pakistani soldiers occupying a border checkpoint on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.  The Pakistan government has blocked shipment of NATO supplies in retaliation, and has ordered NATO to vacate an air force base which the US has previously used to launch drone attacks from Pakistani soil.  Pakistani news media are demanding a strong reaction and protests, which could easily turn violent, are beginning.

The incident comes at a time when the US has been working hard to strengthen relations with Pakistan, which had suffered as a result of the killing of Osama Bin Laden and other unilateral actions taken by the US within Pakistan without consulting the Pakistanis.

Attempting to control the damage, the The White House announced that senior U.S. civilian and military officials have extended condolences to their Pakistani counterparts, and  expressed Washington’s desire to work with Pakistan to investigate the death.  Secretary of State Clinton, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. John Allen, commander of the NATO-led coalition forces in Afghanistan, each called their Pakistani counterparts .  U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter also met with Pakistani government officials in Islamabad.

“In their contacts, these US diplomatic and military leaders each stressed — in addition to their sympathies and a commitment to review the circumstances of the incident — the importance of the US-Pakistani partnership, which serves the mutual interests of our people,” the US said.

Col. 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. A prolonged closure of Pakistan’s two Afghan border crossings to NATO supplies could cause serious problems for the coalition. The

Meanwhile, as the US mobilized in damage control mode, the UK’s Guardian quoted unnamed senior NATO officials as saying that NATO acted in self defense in the attack that killed Pakistanis.   Thus far only the UK media is reporting this aspect of the story.

In Pakistan,  an ISPR statement released Saturday said that the attack was a result of unprovoked NATO aggression, and that Pakistani troops effectively responded immediately in self-defence with all available weapons. The press release said 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. The incident occurred a day after US General John Allen met Pakistani Army Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani to discuss border control and enhanced cooperation.Strongly condemning the attack, Gen Kayani said that the NATO/ISAF’s ‘blatant and unacceptable aggression’ resulted in loss of precious lives of Pakistani soldiers, according to the ISPR press release. While lauding the effective response by the soldiers of Pakistan Army in self-defence, he directed to take ‘all necessary steps’ for an effective response to this irresponsible act. 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 on our post will have serious repercussions as they (NATO troops) without any reason attacked our post and killed soldiers asleep,” he said.

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