WASHINGTON - A top U.S. general said Thursday that an "overarching lack of trust" between the U.S. and Pakistan, as well as several key communication errors, led to the NATO airstrikes last month near the Afghan border that killed two dozen Pakistani troops.
Brig. Gen. Stephen Clark, an Air Force special operations officer who led the investigation into the incident, says U.S. forces used the wrong maps, were unaware of Pakistani border post locations and mistakenly provided the wrong location for the troops.
Clark described a confusing series of gaffes rooted in the fact that U.S. and Pakistan do not trust each other enough to provide details about their locations and military operations along the border. As a result, U.S. forces on that dark, Nov. 26 night thought they were under attack, believed there were no Pakistani forces in the area, and called in airstrikes on what they thought were enemy insurgents.
The Pentagon did not apologize for the action, as Pakistan has demanded, and has not briefed Pakistani leaders on the results of the investigation, which were released Thursday.
"For the loss of life and for the lack of proper coordination between U.S. and Pakistani forces that contributed to those losses, we express our deepest regret," Pentagon spokesman George Little told reporters.The Pakistan army said that it does not agree with the findings of the U.S.-NATO inquiry, saying the "report is short on facts," according to CBS News' Farhan Bokhari. The army added that it needed more time to assess the report before commenting further. Meanwhile, on future supplies taken through the country's land route for U.S.-backed Western troops in Afghanistan.
He added that the U.S wants to learn from the mistakes and take any corrective measures needed to make sure such mistakes aren't repeated.
NATO, Afghanistan and Pakistani forces use the joint border control centers to share information and coordinate security operations.
Pakistani officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the report. Afghan officials also had no immediate comment.
The Pakistani military has said it provided NATO with maps that clearly showed where the border posts were located.
Since the Nov. 26 attack, a furious Pakistani government has shut down NATO supply routes to Afghanistan and thrown the U.S. out of its Shamsi Air base in southwestern Baluchistan province. The base was used to maintain drones deployed in strikes against insurgents hiding in safe havens in Pakistan's lawless tribal belt on the Afghan frontier.
The Pakistani border closure forced the U.S. and NATO to reorient their entire logistics chains to the so-called Northern Distribution Network through Russia and Central Asia.
For most of the 10-year war in Afghanistan, 90 percent of supplies shipped to the international force came through Pakistan, via the port of Karachi. But over the past three years, road and rail shipments from NATO's European members via Russia and the Central Asian nations have expanded, and before the border incident accounted for more than half of all overland deliveries.
Though the findings of the investigation fall short of Pakistan's expectations of a full acceptance of responsibility by the U.S. and NATO, a senior government official tells CBS News' Bokhari that the mere mention of shared responsibility is "at least is a step forward".
Speaking to CBS News on condition of anonymity, the Pakistani official said "there are now signs that at least we can sit down and begin going over our differences. I expect progress to begin taking place (to repair bilateral ties) in the next few weeks."
A senior Western diplomat in Islamabad told CBS News, "even if they (Pakistan) are half satisfied, the important point to remember is that there is now room to begin undoing the damage... The relationship with Pakistan is too important. I suspect, after Christmas, there will be high level contacts to find a way forward."
The NATO official said the incident occurred after a company-sized joint U.S.-Afghan commando unit operating in the Afghan side of the border in eastern Kunar province came under fire from the direction of the border. A company is about 150 troops.
The unit, which could not withdraw safely due to the nature of the terrain, then attempted to determine that the fire wasn't coming from anywhere near Pakistani positions, in order to avoid hitting them, the official said.
At that point "mistakes were made" because different mapping systems were used to determine the exact location of the firefight, he said. Discrepancies on how the border was marked on different maps led the unit to believe they could safely return fire. They then called in air strikes from F-15 fighter bombers, Apache attack helicopters and an AC-130 Spectre gunship.
"There was also an element of mistrust that contributed to the mistakes," the official said, citing the report.