The AP report describes a confusing situation in which NATO forces were searching for insurgent fighters in the border region of northwest Pakistan and northeast Afghanistan after Taliban forces attacked that allied unit.
“According to the U.S. military records described to the AP, the joint U.S. and Afghan patrol requested backup after being hit by mortar and small-arms fire by Taliban militants,” the wire service reported. “Before responding, the joint U.S.-Afghan patrol first checked with the Pakistani army, which reported it had no troops in the area.
Sources told the AP that the patrol requested an air strike at 2:21 a.m., but did not realize the facility was a Pakistani checkpoint manned by dozens of Pakistani soldiers. AP reported an AC-130 gunship and Apache attack choppers engaged the facility.
The White House remained largely mum about the incident through Tuesday morning, issuing only a joint Pentagon-State Department statement late Saturday evening. Pakistan’s prime minister on Monday said Washington cannot expect “business as usual” after the attack, which left as many as 24 Pakistani soldiers dead.
Reaction from Capitol Hill was also mostly muted.
Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member John McCain (R-Ariz.), however, issued a statement saying that while all Americans are “saddened” by the loss of life, Pakistan is far from a perfect ally.
“Most importantly, Pakistan’s intelligence agency continues to support the Haqqani Network and other terrorist groups that are killing U.S. and Afghan forces in Afghanistan,” McCain said, “and the vast majority of the material used to make improvised explosive devices originates from two fertilizer factories in Pakistan.”
The Pentagon announced Monday evening that U.S. Central Command chief Marine Gen. James Mattis has placed Air Force Brig. Gen Stephen Clark in charge of the official U.S. military probe of the incident.
Mattis ordered Clark to field input from and the participation of NATO officials and representatives from the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) that is leading the Afghanistan conflict.The Afghanistan and Pakistan governments have been invited to participate in the Central Command investigation as well.
“It is [Central Command's] intent to include these government representatives to the maximum extent possible to determine what happened and preclude it from happening again,” according to a CentCom statement.
“The investigation team will focus their efforts on the facts of the incident and any matters that facilitate a better understanding of the circumstances surrounding the deaths and injuries of the Pakistan forces,” according to the statement.
Clark's review team must deliver an interim report to Mattis by Dec. 23.
NATO is conducting its own review of the friendly fire incident.