US probe hardens Pakistani suspicions

By: Gareth Porter

The Pakistani military leadership’s response to the United States report on its helicopter attack on two Pakistani border posts on November 26 has assailed the credibility of the investigation by Air Force Brigadier General Steven Clark and expressed doubt that the attack could have been “accidental”.

The long-expected rejoinder, made public on Monday, charged that 28 of its soldiers at two border bases were killed one by one long after the US military had been told about the attack on a Pakistani base.

The Pakistani critique questions the claims that the US did not know about the Pakistani border posts, that the combined US-Afghan Special Forces unit believed it was under attack from insurgents when it called in air strikes against the two border posts, and that a series of miscommunications prevented higher echelons from stopping the attacks on the border posts.

Revelations in the Clark report – as well as what it omits – support the Pakistani contention that the US investigation covered up what actually occurred before and during the attack. Information in the report suggests that the planners of the Special Forces operation the night of November 25-26 may have known about the two Pakistani border posts that were attacked while feigning ignorance to the commander who had to approve the operation.

It also portrays a military organization that was not really interested in stopping the attack on the border posts even after it had been told that Pakistani military positions were under fire.

The Pakistani analysis does not repeat the assertion made by General Ashfaq Nadeem, the director general for operations, in the aftermath of the attack that the coordinates of the two Pakistani border posts had been given to the US military well before the incident of November 25-26.

The analysis leaves no doubt, however, that the Pakistani military believed the United States was well aware of the two posts. It said each of the posts had five or six bunkers built above ground on the top of a ridge and clearly visible from Maya village about 1.5 kilometers away.

The Pakistani critique asserts that two or three US aircraft had been operating in the area daily, and that US intelligence had questioned Pakistani officials in the past even about changes in weaponry in its border posts.

The Pakistani military document highlights the revelation in the Clark report that Major General James Laster, the commander of the “battlespace” in which Operation SAYAQA was to take place, had demanded that the planners of the operation “confirm the location of Pakistan’s border checkpoints”.

The most recent map of Pakistani border positions available at the time, according to the Clark report, was dated February 2011. The obvious intent of the demand by Laster was that the planners find out if there were any new border checkpoints that needed to be added to update the map.

The Clark report reveals that “pre-mission intelligence analysis” had indicated “possible border posts North and South of the Operation SAYAQA target areas”.

That intelligence was obviously relevant to Laster’s order, but those border posts did not show up on the map produced on November 23. The planners had decided not to check on those “possible border posts” by asking a Pakistani border liaison officer or investigating unilaterally.

The Clark report tiptoes carefully around the implications of that fact, saying the operation’s planners “did not identify any known border posts in the area of Operational SAYAQA”.

The point of requiring confirmation of a new map would presumably have been to go beyond border posts that were on the available map.

Air crews planning for the operation also knew about the “possible border posts”, according to the report, but didn’t include them in their “pre-mission planning packages”, because “they were data points outside the Operation SAYAQA area.”

United States investigators showed no apparent curiosity about what appears to have been the deliberate exclusion of the two new border posts from the map given to Laster.

The Pakistani critique charges that it is “not possible” that the failure to check on the Pakistani posts was “an innocent omission”.

A second point made by the Pakistani military is that the US attack on its “Volcano” base by US helicopter gunships continued for “as long as one hour and 24 minutes” after the US side had been informed of the attack on its post.

Despite the fact that US and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) officials had already been informed about the assault on the Pakistani bases “at multiple levels by the Pakistan side”, the Pakistani analysis charges, “every soldier in and around the posts was individually targeted”.

The Clark report’s account of US responses to being informed by Pakistani officials that their bases were under attack does nothing to allay Pakistani suspicions about the claim that the attack was unintentional.

It confirms the earlier Pakistani claim that its border liaison officer at the ISAF Regional Command East (RC-E) had informed the US officers in charge of “deconfliction” with Pakistani positions on the border minutes after the attack had begun at 23:40 hours that Pakistani Frontier Force soldiers were being “engaged” by US-coalition forces coming from Afghanistan.

The exchange over the news from the Pakistani officer was testy. Clark recalled in his press briefing on the report on December 22 that the Pakistani liaison officer had been asked where the border posts were located, and had not given the coordinates, but had responded, “Well, you know where it is because you’re shooting at them.”

Clark suggested that there was “confusion” about where the attack was taking place, but there was only one place where US forces were firing at positions inside Pakistan that night, and RC-E’s border confliction cell could have easily identified that place quickly enough with one or two calls.

Neither the text of the report nor the detailed timeline in an annex show any effort to contact the Special Forces Task Force or Task Force BRONCO, which had approved the operation, about the report that they were attacking Pakistani border posts. The report offers no explanation for the absence of any action on that report, saying only that it “could not be immediately confirmed”.

Twenty minutes before the information had arrived, according to the Clark report, Task Force BRONCO told the Special Operations Task Force in the region it was still waiting to get confirmation from the Border Coordination Center for the area that there were no Pakistani troops near the operation. It added that RC-E was not tracking any PAKMIL border posts on its computerized map of the area.

The Special Operations Task Force then then sent out a message system saying, “PAKMIL has been notified and confirmed no positions in area”.

In yet another suspicious episode, instead of asking the Pakistani liaison to the border coordination commission whether Pakistan had any posts or troops in the area of Operation SAYAQA, RC-E give him a general location that was 14 kilometers away from that area and asked if Pakistan had troops nearby.

The misdirection of the Pakistani liaison officer, which ensured the response that there were no Pakistani troops in the area, is explained in the Clark report as having been caused by a “misconfigured electronic map overlay”.

Asked in his press briefing why the RC-E had refused to provide precise grid coordinates under circumstances in which it was supposed to be determining whether US forces were firing at Pakistani forces, Clark cited “the overarching lack of trust”.

Nearly 40 minutes after the attack on border post “Volcano” began, according to a timeline in the report, the US Liaison officer to Pakistan’s 11th Corps reported to the Special Operations Task Force that US helicopters and a drone had been firing on a Pakistani military post.

But the Task Force waited for at least 10 more minutes, according to the timeline, before informing the Special Forces Unit.

Meanwhile Pakistani troops were being hunted down one by one.

Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specializing in US national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam, was published in 2006.


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  • Jamal Leghari  On January 27, 2012 at 8:15 am

    Dear Ms Aftab,,

    Thank you for sharing very Valuable & Informative, Revealing Article with me..
    We Owe it to Our Country & to Our Martyrs who are Laying their lifes for the Protection of Our Homeland that TRUTH & CORRECT FACTS are Made Public!!!
    Unfortunately Due to Various Vices of Our Corrupt Cored Governments, We Lack the Moral Strength to talk from an EVEN POSITION– Resiulting in Such Tragedy’s…

    Profound Regards
    Senator Sardar M Jamal K Leghari

    Sent from Jamal’s iPhone

  • Nadeem Alamgir  On January 27, 2012 at 10:51 am

    Mr.Jamal Laghari is a Son of Former President of Pakistan who was made president by the PPP of Shaheed Benazir and who betrayed her. Mr.Laghari himself is an MNA what I believe. That is why other than criticizing the present government which in reality is the most incompetent government in Pakistan he has not talked about the facts.
    Fact is that it was there government under Gen Musharaf who gave access to USA on Pak Soil. On one phone call they all lay down like the people ruled by pharaoh’s of Egypt face down not looking at the actions of the Pharaoh of today USA.
    These politicians are responsible for killing of my sons and country men in all terror incidents including those by the worst dictator of all times Gen Zia.
    The Americans are not our friends they have no shame and have no conscience they are murderers. They will keep doing this till they find out that the opponent has arms and is willing to fight back. They are cowards and they deserve response. Pak Army shoul be asked to shoot back at the American aka Nato/Isaf (Fraud) on slightest intrusion. We need to tell them that we are not afraid of war although we love peace but we are not cowerds. We are an Atomic Power we should behave like one. These all politician need to be sacked as they all are peanut brain and can’t see beyond there own benefits and self. Pakistan is our country and we know the best how to rule mother land these politicians are all ba………… to the best,

  • a m malik  On January 27, 2012 at 2:05 pm

    I tend to believe that Pakistan’s version is more creditable.

  • Stacey Solomon  On January 28, 2012 at 3:32 pm

    What is the credibility of those who had protected the terrorist OBL for the last 9/11. They should resigned if they have moral courage equal to single penny because they have bad name for all Pakistanis all over the world.


    • a m malik  On January 30, 2012 at 5:46 pm

      No stanely it is not they who have done it but it is your media which has demonized Talibans who were not involved in 9/11 which even many Americans believe was an inside job. Your fox and CNN have been splashing what Your govt wants. If Muslims were to be blamed then let us be a part of the investigation so that the truth is unfolded once for all.

  • rc boats  On March 11, 2012 at 8:35 pm

    Great article. I came across this by mistake but was happy with what I found. I am going to bookmark this page so I can come back later to look for future articles thanks.

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