Releasing a redacted, unclassified version of an earlier assessment, the U.S. military has conceded that chain-of-command failures led to Pakistani forces enduring 45 minutes of a sustained artillery and air attack from NATO forces near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border on November 26.
Partially recasting its earlier assessment that “both sides” shared responsibility for the clash, in which 24 Pakistani soldiers lost their lives, the report noted that the delay in communication between a NATO operations officer in Afghanistan and a top allied-forces Commander resulted in the International Security Assistance Force leadership knowing about the PakMil presence in the area only after the shooting had already stopped.
Discussing some of the report's findings, U.S. Central Command commander Marine Corps General James Mattis said, “The strongest take-away from this incident is the fundamental fact that we must improve border coordination, and this requires a foundational level of trust on both sides of the border.”
The report noted that “contact and lethal action” began after 11pm on November 25 with ISAF deploying Hellfire missiles during three specific engagements with Pakistani forces in the vicinity of the Salala checkpoint near the restive Af-Pak border region of Mohmand.
However, the report emphasised that ISAF ground forces “were executing Operation Sayaqa, approved by ISAF Joint Command headquarters, when they came under fire from positions on a ridge near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border”.
The report noted that it was after the exchange of fire had come to an end that “Eventually, it became clear from various information exchanges that those engaged at the ridge were Pakistan military personnel.”
As a result of the investigation, General Mattis was said to have directed ISAF forces to implement several actions “as soon as possible,” including clarifying authorities, responsibilities and standard operating procedures for command, control; implementing a programme of full disclosure of all border area facilities and installations on both sides of the border; and developing and sharing with the Pakistan Army use of force-escalation measures
Yet the report was firm on the role of the Pakistani military that it had noted earlier, reiterating that “the catalyst for the engagement was the opening of fire by Pakistan soldiers and that their continued fire made the situation worse.”
Nevertheless, the U.S. investigators noted that time-sensitive senior command override measures for border-area incidents were lacking and such a “series of miscommunications within the chain of command... delayed confirmation of the identity of the Pakistani forces.”