U.S. launches probe into Pakistan border attack

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WASHINGTON -- The U.S. military began a high-level investigation Monday to help salvage relations with Pakistan after an airstrike by the NATO-led coalition in Afghanistan killed 24 Pakistani troops at the border.

The U.S. military's highest commander for the region, Marine Gen. James Mattis, named Brig. Gen. Stephen Clark of the Air Force Special Operations Command to lead the investigation. Marine Gen. John Allen, the top U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization commander in Afghanistan, had requested that Central Command take charge of the review, Pentagon press secretary George Little said.

"You can expect the investigation to look at the full range of factors that contributed to this tragedy," Mr. Little told reporters Monday at the Pentagon. "It will be broad, expansive and thorough."

The investigation and repeated U.S. condolences were aimed at avoiding a prolonged rift in a relationship that was already in a rebuilding stage after a tumultuous year. Ties had been strained by the killing of two Pakistanis by a Central Intelligence Agency contractor, the raid near Islamabad that killed Osama bin Laden, and U.S. accusations that Pakistan's army aids groups attacking Americans in Afghanistan.

President Barack Obama's spokesman, Jay Carney, said the U.S. takes the latest border incident "very seriously," and will work to maintain cooperation with Pakistan. The two countries have "shared goals" when it comes to combating terrorism, he said.

Pakistani authorities responded to Friday's airstrike with expressions of outrage and by closing border crossings into Afghanistan that the coalition relies on to ferry supplies from a port to the land-locked war zone. Supply trucks for American-led forces in Afghanistan backed up on Pakistani roads near the border after the closure, leaving drivers and their cargo vulnerable to attack by Islamic guerrillas.

U.S. military officials have said their forces can sustain operations in Afghanistan for weeks in case of such a shutdown.

"There are other supply routes," Mr. Little said. "The war effort continues."

U.S. Gen. William Fraser told Congress in July the Pakistan route was carrying 35 percent of "non-lethal" supplies for American-led forces in Afghanistan. The military has worked to shift to a northern route through Russia and Central Asia, Gen. Fraser said.

Pakistan also ordered U.S. officials to leave an airbase in the southwest that has served as a launching point for Predator unmanned aircraft used against the Taliban and their allied guerrillas on both sides of the border.

Pakisgtan's Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar told Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in a weekend phone call that the attack by helicopter gunships triggered a "deep sense of rage" in the nuclear-armed nation, according to a foreign ministry statement.

Gen. Mattis' instructions to Gen. Clark for the investigation said he should include representatives of NATO, the broader coalition fighting in Afghanistan, Afghan forces and the Pakistani government.

Anthony Cordesman, a military analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, predicted "this crisis will get papered over" and "the U.S. will face even less prospect that Pakistan will really crackdown on insurgent groups in the border area."


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