NATO helicopters and fighter jets attacked two military outposts in northwest Pakistan Saturday, killing as many as 28 troops and plunging U.S.-Pakistan relations deeper into crisis.
Pakistan shut down NATO supply routes into Afghanistan – used for sending in nearly half of the alliance’s land shipments – in retaliation for the worst such incident since Islamabad uneasily allied itself with Washington following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
Islamabad also said it had ordered the United States to vacate a drone base in the country, but a senior U.S. official said Washington had received no such request and noted that Pakistan had made similar eviction threats in the past, without following through.
NATO and U.S. officials expressed regret about the deaths of the Pakistani soldiers, indicating the attack may have been an error; but the exact circumstances remained unclear.
“Senior U.S. civilian and military officials have been in touch with their Pakistani counterparts from Islamabad, Kabul and Washington to express our condolences, our desire to work together to determine what took place, and our commitment to the U.S.-Pakistan partnership which advances our shared interests, including fighting terrorism in the region,” said White House national security council spokesman Tommy Vieter.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar spoke by telephone, as did General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Pakistani Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.
The NATO-led force in Afghanistan confirmed that NATO aircraft had probably killed Pakistani soldiers in an area close to the Afghan-Pakistani border.
“Close air support was called in, in the development of the tactical situation, and it is what highly likely caused the Pakistan casualties,” said General Carsten Jacobson, spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
He added he could not confirm the number of casualties, but ISAF was investigating. “We are aware that Pakistani soldiers perished. We don’t know the size, the magnitude,” he said.
While it is still unclear exactly what happened and why, it is clear that NATO troops fired and that Pakistani soldiers were killed. There are several possibilities for what occurred. For example, it could be that NATO forces strayed too close to the border for Pakistani comfort, and so the Pakistanis fired on them and they retaliated. It could be a simple case of mistaking the Pakistanis soldiers for Taliban. It could even be that the Pakistanis were working in concert with Taliban and NATO could not tell the difference between the two groups.
The immediate repercussions of this action: Pakistan has cut off the main supply route to NATO troops in Afghanistan, it has ordered the US to close a drone base on Pakistani territory, it has stopped giving the US intel on possible drone targets, and it has ordered a review of all aspects of US-Pakistani relations.
While many Americans may shrug their shoulders and say that the Pakistanis probably deserved what they got because they may have been helping the Taliban, this ignores strategic realities. Pakistan is a nuclear power with the seventh largest military in the world. Not only do the Pakistanis have their national pride at stake, but many Pakistanis simply despise the US, and even before this incident a substantial minority of the population preferred to go to war against the US if that was what was necessary to get rid of our presence in the region. And, in truth, by and large Pakistan does not need our presence. On the other hand, US military resources are stretched to the limit, and we need Pakistani support and help to continue the fight in Afghanistan and against al-Qaeda–indeed, without their help and support, we would have to withdraw from the region.
It is unclear how this situation will be resolved. It could just end up being a tempest in a teapot, or it could become a watershed moment in US-Pakistani relations. However, what is clear is that some of the Republican candidates for president–Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich come to mind–need to learn what they are talking about before they open their mouths. This situation is every bit as nuanced and difficult as Michele Bachmann painted it in the last debate. While it may gratify our own egos to cut off Pakistani support (Perry), or to tell them to shut up and accept what amounts to the full spread of the Afghan war into Pakistan (Gingrich), neither plan seems wise or feasible given US priorities in the region.
- Pakistan Cuts US Supply Lines To Afghanistan (politicons.net)
- Chaos: Pakistan wants U.S. drone base shut after NATO attack kills 26 Pakistani troops (hotair.com)
- Pakistan Shuts Off NATO Supply Routes Following Attack (bigpeace.com)
- PAKISTAN: Pakistan stops NATO supplies after raid kills up to 28. “NATO helicopters and fighter je… (pjmedia.com)