Pakistan and US at Odds Over Border Post Deaths

News Brief – November 28, 2011

NATO operations in Afghanistan are at risk of being put on hold after Pakistan closed its border crossings with Afghanistan, restricting supplies to Coalition forces operating there. The closure follows a NATO air strike on a Pakistani border outpost on Saturday that left 24 Pakistani soldiers dead.

It has been followed by conflicting claims and counter-claims over the incident.

The attack occurred after a unit comprised largely of Afghan commandoes led by U.S. ‘advisors’ called in air strikes after coming under fire, U.S. spokesmen say.

They claim their forces and their Afghan allies came under fire from the Pakistan side of the border. The air strikes that were called led to the deaths of the Pakistani soldiers.

Coalition officials have described the incident as a regrettable mistake.

For its part Pakistan says the air strikes were “unprovoked”.

Describing the attack as “premeditated”, Pakistan says it continued for almost two hours, even after Pakistan notified Coalition commanders that they were firing on its forces.

Underlying these conflicting claims is mutual suspicion on both sides.

US officials believe elements within Pakistan’s army and intelligence services have been covertly supporting a resurgent Taliban. Coming in the form of weapons, know-how and refuge in Pakistan’s border provinces this support has allowed the Taliban to continue attacks on US troops in Afghanistan – effectively helping prolong a war that has dragged on for more than a decade now.

Meanwhile, Pakistan views U.S. actions against the Taliban in Pakistan as an infringement of its own territorial sovereignty.

A recent example of this being the U.S. military operation in Pakistan that allegedly resulted in the death of bin Laden.

The attack on the border post is further fuelling public anger over what many Pakistanis view as the U.S. riding roughshod over its supposed ally.

Meanwhile, in a statement that will only fuel the controversy US Senator John McCain has condemned authorities in Pakistan.

While saying he was “deeply saddened” by the loss of life McCain rebuked Islamabad, implying they were helping prolong the war in Afghanistan.

“It is important to note that certain facts in Pakistan continue to complicate significantly the ability of coalition and Afghan forces to succeed in Afghanistan,” McCain said in a statement.

“Pakistan’s intelligence agency continues to support the Haqqani network and other terrorist groups that are killing US and Afghan forces in Afghanistan, and the vast majority of the material used to make improvised explosive devices originates from two fertilizer factories in Pakistan,” said McCain (Quote source).

While the U.S. and its Coalition allies have sought to limit the fallout from Saturday’s attack, Senator McCain’s statement is likely only to inflame it.