By Merle David Kellerhals Jr.
Washington — The United States has apologized to Pakistan for a helicopter strike September 30 that killed two Pakistani Frontier Scouts and injured four others in a “terrible accident,” U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson says.
In a statement October 6 from the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Patterson said, “We extend our deepest apology to Pakistan and the families of the Frontier Scouts who were killed and injured. Pakistan’s brave security forces are our allies in a war that threatens both Pakistan and the U.S.”
The United States will coordinate closely with the Pakistan military to prevent such accidents from occurring in the future, the ambassador said.
A joint investigation by the Pakistan military and the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has established that two U.S. helicopters mistook the Frontier Scouts for Taliban insurgents that the U.S. forces had been pursuing and fired on them along a rugged, mountainous stretch of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, the investigating team said in a brief statement issued October 6 from ISAF headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Investigators concluded that two coalition helicopters passed into Pakistan airspace several times on September 30. The helicopters fired on a building later identified as a Pakistan border outpost in response to shots fired from the post, the ISAF said.
“We believe the Pakistani border guard was simply firing warning shots after hearing the nearby engagement and hearing the helicopters flying nearby,” said U.S. Air Force Brigadier General Tim Zadalis, ISAF’s director of air plans and assessment team leader.
Investigators said they believe the Frontier Scouts were trying to warn the helicopters that they were there on the border.
“This tragic event could have been avoided with better coalition force coordination with the Pakistan military,” Zadalis said.
ISAF said that following the engagement, ISAF learned the dead and wounded soldiers were members of the Pakistan Frontier Scouts. The Frontier Scouts are part of a larger Frontier force that supports local law enforcement authorities and provides border patrols for wide sections of the western border with Afghanistan.
“ISAF offers its deepest sympathy and condolences to the families of those killed and wounded, to the Pakistan military and the people of Pakistan,” ISAF Commander General David Petraeus said. “We deeply regret this tragic loss of life and will continue to work with the Pakistan military and government to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”
Shortly after the helicopter strike the Pakistan government shut down a major border crossing that is used to ship equipment and goods to coalition soldiers in Afghanistan.