U.S. plans no disciplinary charges in strike that killed 24 Pakistanis: NYT

NEW YORK, Mar 25 (APP): None of the U.S. military men involved in the deadly NATO airstrike that killed 25 Pakistani soldiers will face disciplinary charges, The New York Times reported Sunday, citing senior American military officials.

The news came on the eve of resumption of the debate on a major review of relations with the United States, which the Times said, “plunged relations between the two countries to new depths and has greatly complicated the allied mission in Afghanistan”. As part of that debate, Pakistani legislators have demanded an unconditional formal apology from the United States for the fatal airstrike.

The Times said an American investigation in December found fault with both American and Pakistani troops for the deadly exchange of fire, but claimed that the Pakistanis fired first from two border posts that were not on coalition maps, and that they kept firing even after the Americans tried to warn them that they were shooting at allied troops.

Pakistan has rejected these conclusions and ascribed most of the blame to the American forces.

The newspaper said a second inquiry to determine whether any American military personnel should be punished said “no”, explaining that the Americans fired in self-defence. Other mistakes that contributed to the fatal cross-border strike were the regrettable result of battlefield confusion, they said.

“We found nothing criminally negligent on the part of any individual in our investigations of the incident,” one senior American military official involved in the process was quoted as saying on the basis of anonymity because the results of the review had not been made public.

“The military’s decision is expected to anger Pakistani officials at a time when the two countries are gingerly trying to patch up a security relationship left in tatters over the past year from a series of episodes, including the shooting of two Pakistanis in Lahore by a C.I.A. contractor, the Navy SEALs raid in Abbottabad that killed Osama bin Laden and the deadly airstrike in November,” the Times said.

In the highest-level meeting of leaders of the two countries since the accident, President Barack Obama is to meet with Pakistan’s prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, on Tuesday in Seoul, South Korea, after a nuclear security summit meeting there, to discuss Afghanistan and other security issues. But President Obama is not expected to go beyond the regrets he conveyed to Pakistan soon after the airstrike on Nov. 25.

Some administration aides said at the time that they worried that if  Obama formally apologized to Pakistan, it could provide ammunition for his Republican opponents in the presidential race.

By contrast, Mr. Obama offered a personal apology last month to President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan for the burning of the copies of Holy Quran by American soldiers there, as well as regrets about the massacre of Afghan civilians in which an Army staff sergeant has been charged.

Gen. James N. Mattis, the head of the military’s Central Command, is scheduled to hold long-delayed meetings this week in Islamabad with Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the Pakistan Army Chief of staff, to discuss the airstrike investigation, as well as new border coordination procedures to prevent a recurrence of the episode.

General Mattis will also discuss opportunities for training, arms sales and improving border coordination centers, military officials said. Other senior American officials, like Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides, and Marc Grossman, the State Department’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, are also expected to meet soon with senior Pakistani officials to begin mending relations.

By Iftikhar Ali for the Associated Press of Pakistan

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