Pakistan: NATO strikes lasted almost 2 hours

Afghanistan-bound trucks carrying supplies for NATO forces are parked as authorities closed the border at Torkham, in Pakistan, Sunday, Nov 27, 2011. AP Photo/Qazi Rauf

ISLAMABAD - The NATO airstrikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers lasted almost two hours and continued even after commanders at the bases pleaded with coalition forces to stop, Pakistan's military claimed Monday, charges that could further inflame anger in Pakistan.

NATO has described the incident as "tragic and unintended" and has promised a full investigation.

Unnamed Afghan officials have said that Afghan commandos and U.S. special forces were conducting a mission on the Afghan side of the border and took incoming fire from the direction of the Pakistani posts. They responded with airstrikes.

An Afghan intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity to CBS News' Sami Yousafzai, backed up that claim Monday, saying a joint U.S.-Afghan patrol came under "heavy artillery fire" from the Pakistani side of the border early Saturday morning. The air strikes were called in to hit the location from which the shells were fired, the official said, as the U.S. military decided, "regardless of whether the shellers were Pakistani Army or Taliban, they had to eliminate the position."

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According to the Afghan source, shelling from the Pakistani side has been a regular occurrence "for months," the only difference being that this time, U.S. troops happened to be on patrol with their Afghan counterparts.

A high-ranking source from the Afghan Ministry of Defense gave a near identical account to CBS News' Fazul Rahim in Kabul, also saying the NATO air strikes were called in after U.S. forces in the area came under fire from the Pakistani side of the border.

Ties between Pakistan and the United States have sunk to new lows since the deadly attack, delivering a major setback to American hopes of enlisting Islamabad's help in negotiating an end to the 10-year-old Afghan war.

Pakistan retaliation puts NATO in lurch

Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said the Pakistani troops at two border posts were the victims of unprovoked aggression. He said the attack lasted almost two hours and that commanders had contacted NATO counterparts while it was going on, asking that "they get this fire to cease, but somehow it continued."

The Pakistan army has previously said its soldiers retaliated "with all weapons available" to the attack.

The accounts given to CBS News by the Afghan and Pakistani officials directly contradict each other. CBS News is seeking clarification from NATO in Afghanistan. NATO has launched its own investigation into the border air strikes.

The poorly defined, mountainous border has been a constant source of tension between Pakistan and the United States. NATO officials have complained that insurgents fire from across the frontier, often from positions close to Pakistani soldiers who have been accused of tolerating or supporting the militants. NATO and Afghan forces are not allowed to cross over into Pakistan in pursuit of militants.

Saturday's strikes added to popular anger in Pakistan against the U.S.-led coalition presence in Afghanistan. Many in the army, parliament, general population and media already believed that the U.S. and NATO are hostile to Pakistan and that the Afghan Taliban are not the enemy.

"Whoever is a friend of America is a traitor to the land," around 400 members of Jamaat-e-Dawa, an alleged front group for the militant Lashkar-e-Taiba organization, chanted in a demonstration in Karachi, the country's biggest city. There have several small rallies across the country since Saturday.

Militants have periodically attacked foreigners in Pakistan over the last 10 years.

On its website, the U.S. Embassy warned of possible retaliation against its Americans and said some U.S. government personnel outside Islamabad were being recalled to the capital as a precaution.

While the United States is widely disliked in Pakistan, the army has accepted billions in American aid over the last 10 years in return for its cooperation in fighting al Qaeda. It has been accused of fomenting anti-American sentiment in the country to extract better terms in what is essentially a transactional and deeply troubled relationship with Washington.

"Pakistan really has not behaved like an ally of the United States in the past, and it probably won't in the future," former Assistant Secretary of State James Rubin told CBS News Monday.

The former diplomat, who is currently an editor for Bloomberg news, also says U.S. leaders need to be more frank with the Congress, and the American people over the difficulties in dealing with Pakistan.

"I think it's also true that both President Bush and President Obama have sugar-coated the reality and not really leveled with the American people about how Pakistan's behavior really is inconsistent, and it's not fair and true to call them a real partner."

Saturday's deadly incident also serves to shift attention away from the dominant perception of the Pakistani army in the West over the last five years — that of an unreliable ally that supports militancy. That image was cemented after al Qaeda's chief Osama bin Laden was found to have been hiding in an army town close to the Pakistani capital when he was killed.

For Pakistan's weak and much criticized elected government, Saturday's airstrikes provide a rare opportunity to unite the country and a momentary relief from attack by rivals eyeing elections in 2013 or sooner.

Carried live on Pakistani TV, with politicians and military generals in attendance, the funerals for the slain Pakistani soldiers were treated as a state ceremony, reports CBS News correspondent Mandy Clark.

By contrast, deaths of soldiers and civilians in attacks by militants, some with alleged links to the country's spy agencies, are often greeted with official silence.

Abbas dismissed Afghanistan's claims that the joint Afghan-NATO troops were fired upon first.

"At this point, NATO and Afghanistan are trying to wriggle out of the situation by offering excuses," he said. "Where are their casualties?"

Cell phone video obtained Monday by CBS News shows Pakistani soldiers tending to injured colleagues at a base or barracks near the border checkpoints where the air strikes occurred.

The video obtained by CBS News was shot at the base, down the mountain from the border checkpoints involved, at about 7 a.m., five hours after the initial shots were allegedly fired. Pakistani army helicopters brought the dead and injured to the base hours after the incident.

Abbas said the two military posts, named "Volcano" and "Golden," were situated on a ridge in Mohmand region around 300 yards from the border with Afghanistan. He said their exact location had been provided to NATO and that the area had recently been cleared of militants.

Hours after the attack on Saturday, Pakistan closed its western border to trucks delivering supplies to NATO troops in Afghanistan, demanded that the U.S. abandon an air base inside Pakistan used to operate drone strikes, and said it will review its cooperation with the U.S. and NATO.

Clark reports that more than 300 trucks carrying supplies for international forces in Afghanistan were stranded on the Pakistani side at the Torkham border crossing Monday morning.

However, a complete breakdown in the relationship between the United States and Pakistan is considered unlikely. Pakistan relies on billions of dollars in American aid, and the U.S. needs Pakistan to push Afghan insurgents to participate in peace talks.

After the bin Laden raid, ties almost collapsed but slowly resumed, albeit at a lower level and with lower expectations on the American side.

Despite high-tech targeting systems, accidents in the "fog of war" happen often.

NATO has hit friendly forces, civilians and even a diplomatic mission in conflicts in Afghanistan, Libya and Serbia.

During the 1999 bombing of Serbia, NATO jets struck the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade by mistake, killing three Chinese reporters. Canadian and British troops were killed in "friendly fire" incidents involving NATO airpower in Afghanistan. In Libya, NATO reportedly bombed opposition fighters at least twice during the seven-month campaign.


11/29/11 Editor's note: The cell phone video included in this report on the aftermath of the US-airstrike that occurred on the Pakistan/Afghanistan border Nov. 26 has been removed. While the report is accurate, the accompanying cell phone footage was related to another incident in the region.

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