Things are moving quite rapidly and in the wrong direction in Pakistan after a NATO strike hit Pakistani army checkpoints near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and allegedly killed at least 24 soldiers.
Pakistan had already ordered Pakistan’s border crossings into Afghanistan closed, interrupting NATO logistics efforts and ordered a review of all cooperation with the US and NATO.
Now, according to Fox News, “Pakistan’s government has ordered the U.S. to ‘vacate’ an air base used for suspected drone attacks,” in retaliation for the air strike.
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Pakistan’s Defense Committee condemned the attack in a written statement, saying the strike was “violative of international law and had gravely dented the fundamental basis of Pakistan’s cooperation” with NATO against terrorists.
“The attack on Pakistan Army border posts is totally unacceptable and warrants an effective national response,” the statement said.
The government urged the U.S. to leave the Shamsi Air Base within 15 days. The U.S. is suspected of using the facility in the past to launch armed drones and observation aircraft. Pakistan made a similar demand over the summer, though officials reportedly claimed the CIA had already suspended its use of the base as a staging ground for armed drones months earlier.
Still, the tone of the Pakistani government’s statement Saturday underscored the depth of the potential fallout after Pakistan accused NATO aircraft of firing on two army checkpoints and killing 24 soldiers. The incident early Saturday quickly exacerbated tensions between the two countries and threatened to escalate into a standoff more severe than one last year after a similar but less deadly strike.
“Exacerbated tensions” may be an understatement.
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Updates on and Fallout from the U.S.-NATO Strikes on Pakistani Border Posts, from the New York Times:
Pakistani officials now say that at least 25 soldiers were killed in the strikes and “the country’s supreme army commander called them unprovoked acts of aggression in a new flash point between the United States and Pakistan.”
NATO forces in Afghanistan receive roughly 40 percent of their supplies through the Torkham border crossing — one of two main NATO supply routes into Afghanistan that have been closed.
A NATO spokesman said it was likely that allied airstrikes caused the Pakistani casualties, but said an investigation had been ordered to determine the cause.
“Senior U.S. civilian and military officials have been in touch with their Pakistani counterparts from Islamabad, Kabul and Washington to express our condolences, our desire to work together to determine what took place and our commitment to the U.S.-Pakistan partnership, which advances our shared interests, including fighting terrorism in the region,” said Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton; Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Gen. John R. Allen, the commander of the NATO-led forces in Afghanistan, all talked to their Pakistani counterparts to offer condolences and to promise an investigation, administration officials said.
Pakistani officials say that both helicopters and fighter jets took part in the strikes and that “NATO aircraft had penetrated roughly a mile and a half into Pakistan to make the strikes.”
As to what may have prompted the strikes:
A NATO spokesman, Brig. Gen. Carsten Jacobson, offered details suggesting that allied and Afghan troops operating near the border came under fire from unknown enemies and summoned coalition warplanes for help.
As to the fallout:
In a statement on Saturday, the Pakistani military said its top commander, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, had “directed that all necessary steps be undertaken for an effective response to this irresponsible act.”
President Asif Ali Zardari also strongly condemned the airstrikes, and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani cut short a vacation, returning to the capital and calling a meeting of his cabinet’s defense committee.
Pakistan also canceled several scheduled meetings this weekend with visiting American officers, sessions aimed at quietly rekindling training and other cooperation between the two militaries that was shelved after the Bin Laden raid.
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Image: Courtesy enduringamerica.com
The author is a retired U.S. Air Force officer and a writer.