Lobbyist for Pakistan asked US to apologize for blundered NATO airstrikes

Pakistan’s chief lobbyist asked the United States to apologize for NATO airstrikes that inadvertently killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, according to Justice Department records.

On Dec. 22, 2011, Mark Siegel, a partner at Locke Lord Strategies, emailed a nine-page memo to offices on Capitol Hill that detailed Pakistan's version of the events surrounding the airstrikes.

The memo said that the incident "seriously damaged" the relationship between the Pakistani Army and U.S.-led NATO forces and aroused "suspicions in the rank and file of the Pakistan Army that it was a premeditated attack … conducted to undermine the sovereignty and stature of Pakistan."

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"Considering the circumstances of the 25/26 November attacks that resulted in the death of 24 Pakistani soldiers, an apology by the U.S. Department of Defense to the people of Pakistan would not be inappropriate," the memo concludes. 

Siegel noted in the memo that the document was prepared after “briefings by multiple officials of the Embassy of Pakistan."

Soon after the airstrike incident in late November, the White House emphasized that the United States had expressed condolences to Pakistan but not made an official apology.

"We have launched an investigation … to find out exactly what transpired.  But — maybe I’m preempting what your question was, but there was obviously no apology and there was an expression of condolences," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said. 

That investigation concluded that Pakistan’s military was partly to blame for the deaths because they fired upon NATO forces.

On Dec. 22, after those findings were released, the Obama administration was again asked about an apology to Pakistan. 

"Why won’t you say ‘we’re sorry’, or ‘we apologize’ ? And why will you stick only with regret? What’s the difference?" a reporter asked Mark Toner, the State Department's deputy spokesman.

"What’s the difference is that we have accepted responsibility for mistakes ... that we made. But as the report makes clear, there were miscommunications on both sides. There was misinformation that led to the results of that day. It’s a great tragedy. We’ve expressed our regret," Toner said.

Pakistan blasted parts of the U.S. report last month as “factually not correct.”

In an interview with The Hill, Siegel said his firm’s memo on the NATO airstrikes was sent to all lawmakers, chiefs of staffs and foreign policy legislative aides on Capitol Hill.

“What we were attempting to do there was summarize the Pakistan version of events and compare it to the U.S. version of events and note where the two are in conflict,” Siegel said.

Locke Lord has a $75,000 per month contract with the Pakistani embassy. The embassy paid the firm more than $911,000 in representation fees from October 2010 to September 2011, according to Justice records.  

Siegel said an apology still has not been offered to Pakistan for the airstrikes.

“There have been expressions of regret but there has not been an apology,” Siegel said. “It certainly would have helped. Now, two months after the fact, it could still be helpful.”

Since the incident, the rocky relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan has deteriorated further. Pakistan closed supply routes for NATO in response to the airstrikes, according to press reports.

Pakistan’s parliament is reviewing all aspects — political, economic and military — of the relationship between Pakistan and United States. That report should be released soon.

Siegel said that he anticipates the report will establish new rules of engagement between the Pakistani and U.S. militaries in order to avoid accidents like the NATO airstrikes. 

“They are talking about resetting the relationship based on equality,” Siegel said.