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.