Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

The World

U.S. military releases video of Pakistan attack

Officials deny airstrike was 'unprovoked.' The footage shows troops battling militants acted accordingly, they say.

June 13, 2008|Henry Chu and Julian E. Barnes | Times Staff Writers

NEW DELHI — Faced with outrage from a key ally, the U.S. military on Thursday released footage of a clash between coalition forces and Taliban militants that Pakistan alleges killed 11 of its soldiers.

The unusual move by military officials was clearly designed to soothe anger in Pakistan and to bolster the U.S. account of what happened in the rugged Afghan-Pakistani border region Tuesday, when American warplanes dropped bombs during a battle with militants in the area.

The Pakistani army says the airstrike was an "unprovoked and cowardly act" that killed its paramilitary soldiers, whereas the U.S. military insists its forces acted within accepted rules of engagement and launched the strike in self-defense.

The incident has put a strain on already-fragile relations between Washington and the newly elected Pakistani government. The Bush administration has long counted on Pakistan as a front-line ally in the battle against Islamic extremism, but the new government in Islamabad plans to negotiate with militants and resents what it sees as U.S. disregard for its sovereignty.

Pakistani military officials say the clash between U.S.-led troops and militants just inside Afghanistan on Tuesday culminated in an airstrike on the Pakistani border outpost at Goraprai, in which a major and 10 other members of the Mohmand Rifles were killed.

But the U.S. military asserts that the footage released Thursday, shot by an unmanned aerial drone, absolves American forces of responsibility for those deaths.

The gray, grainy 6 1/2 -minute video appears to show militants on a hilltop in Afghanistan's mountainous Kunar province, a vantage point from which they unleash small-arms and rocket fire on coalition troops below. A voice dubbed over the video says that the coalition soldiers then try to regroup at a location where a helicopter could rescue them.

A bright flash bursts on the screen, a "precision bomb" that the narrator says killed two of the militants on the Pakistani side of the border. But, the voice adds, "it is clear that there are no military structures or outposts in the area."

At least three more bombs explode, killing the remaining militants, the narrator says. The video does not account for other bombs that U.S. military officials acknowledge were dropped in the area.

Speaking to reporters traveling with President Bush in Europe, national security advisor Stephen Hadley said U.S. officials had "not been able to corroborate" the Pakistani charges about the airstrike.

"One of the problems is that it is still not exactly clear what happened," Hadley said, according to the Associated Press. "The reports, quite frankly, even from sources within the United States, are conflicting."

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on Thursday invited the Afghan and Pakistani governments to participate in an investigation of the incident. If the inquiry finds problems, he said, the U.S. military will alter its techniques and rules.

"We think all the procedures were followed, but that will be for the investigation to decide," he said.

Gates, who was in Brussels for a meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, tried to sound a conciliatory note without offering an apology for the border incident.

"Pakistan is an incredibly important partner for us in this war on terror," Gates said. "And personally I regret that we have an incident that has created a problem between us and the government of Pakistan."

Some Defense officials have expressed frustration with the State Department for offering what seemed to be an apology. Military officials have insisted that such statements are premature because the facts are not yet clear.

The border region has long been volatile, with militants crossing from Pakistan to attack U.S.- and NATO-led forces in Afghanistan. The U.S. military has struck the guerrillas in Pakistani territory in the past, usually using aerial drones.

In Brussels, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said the incident did not involve troops under the alliance's command. De Hoop Scheffer, who met earlier with Pakistan's foreign minister in Paris, said it showed the need to increase dialogue with Pakistan about border issues.

"It is crystal clear that boundary, that border, creates problems," he said. "Because we see this increase of people crossing the border making mischief in Afghanistan and then going back."

The airstrike led to protests across Pakistan's western tribal belt on Thursday, with demonstrators chanting anti-American slogans and calling on the government to sever ties with the United States.

"Pakistan is a sovereign country," said Malik Akbar, a tribal elder. "We cannot allow the U.S. or any other power to enter our territory and kill innocent people."

--

henry.chu@latimes.com

julian.barnes@latimes.com

Chu reported from New Delhi and Barnes from Brussels. Special correspondent Zulfiqar Ali in Peshawar, Pakistan, contributed to this report.

--

On latimes.com

To see the video, visit latimes.com/pakistan.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|