Pakistan Rejects U.S. Account Of Clash That Ended With Airstrike

Pakistan’s military issued an uncompromising formal rejection on Monday of the United States report last month on a contentious border exchange of fire that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, dealing a fresh blow to American hopes of reviving a troubled strategic relationship.

Pakistan Rejects U.S. Account Of Clash That Ended With Airstrike

Pakistan’s military issued an uncompromising formal rejection on Monday of the United States report last month on a contentious border exchange of fire that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, dealing a fresh blow to American hopes of reviving a troubled strategic relationship.

In a statement, Pakistan’s military press office described the American account of the Nov. 26 exchange as “factually not correct,” accused the United States of failing to share information “at any level,” and rejected any responsibility for the bloody debacle. In the exchange, American AC-130 gunships flew two miles into Pakistani airspace to return fire after Pakistani troops attacked an American-Afghan ground patrol across the border in Afghanistan.

It was the Pakistani military’s first public comment on the American report since immediately rejecting it when it was released nearly a month ago.

The American investigation, led by Brig. Gen. Stephen Clark of the Air Force, described a chain of errors, delays and conflicting protocols between American and NATO troops that ultimately prevented the United States warplanes from identifying the Pakistanis as friendly forces until 24 were dead and 13 others were wounded.

The inquiry also blamed Pakistan, saying its military had failed to inform NATO of the location of new military posts along the long, often poorly demarcated border.

Pakistan’s military refused to cooperate with the American inquiry, claiming that previous American investigations of disputed border attacks had been biased. The Pakistani military on Monday published its own 25-page report, described in the title as “Pakistan’s perspective” on General Clark’s report.

The military rejected American criticism as “unjustified and unacceptable,” adding that the United States and NATO had “violated all mutually agreed procedures” for border operations.

Pakistani fury is a product of genuine public outrage at the killings, which American officials privately admit were largely their fault, and deep-rooted hostility to the United States.

But it is also driven by a desire on the part of the Pakistani military to deflect attention from their embarrassment about the American raid that killed Osama bin Laden on May 2. “They’ve been preparing this a long time,” a senior American official said. “It is not coming out of the blue.”

In retaliation for the November killings, Pakistan has blocked NATO supply lines passing through its territory, which are estimated to account for 40 to 60 percent of supplies reaching Western troops in Afghanistan. Pakistani military officials say that when the supply lines are re-opened, NATO military goods will be subject to an as-yet-undetermined transit tariff.

Amid the crisis, Pakistan has also frozen diplomatic relations in public, although American officials say that cooperation continues at lower levels.

Pakistani lawmakers are engaged in a policy review aimed at reorganizing the relationship based on a hard-nosed assessment of each side’s interests.

The lower and upper houses of Parliament are expected to debate the new policy in a special joint session in late January. The senior American official said the Obama administration was engaged in “strategic patience.”

“They hope to come to us by early February and say, ‘We are ready to talk,’ ” he said. “We are waiting until they are ready to talk. Now they appear to be getting closer to that place.”

The crisis has also affected C.I.A. operations in Pakistan’s tribal belt. In December, the Pakistani military ejected American operations from an air base in western Baluchistan Province used to mount drone strikes against militant targets.

The drone attacks stopped in December, but resumed Jan. 10. The latest strike was Monday morning in North Waziristan, in a village called Deegan. Witnesses told The Associated Press that a drone fired several missiles at a house, killing four people.

Press reports in Pakistan have suggested that Hakimullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, was killed in a Jan. 12 C.I.A. strike. But a senior Pakistani intelligence official said Monday that there was “no confirmation one way or the other.”

The troubled relationship has also hurt tentative American efforts to explore peace talks with Afghanistan’s Taliban insurgents, as a major troop reduction scheduled for 2014 draws near.

The State Department’s envoy to the region, Marc Grossman, who is leading the effort, recently postponed a planned trip to Islamabad after Pakistani officials declined to meet with him.

In Kabul, a spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force declined to comment on the Pakistani report, but stressed that hard lessons had been learned.

The force was working off the recommendations in the American report to improve cross-border coordination and “ensure this type of incident does not ever occur again,” said the spokesman, Lt. Col. Jimmie E. Cummings Jr.

“U.S. and I.S.A.F. are taking these recommendations and are moving forward toward full implementation,” he said.