Pakistan pulls out of liaison posts; US concerned
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistan on Tuesday temporarily recalled some troops from border posts meant to coordinate activity with international forces in Afghanistan as relations have been pushed to an all-time low by NATO airstrikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.
The troops were pulled back for “consultation” on how to improve coordination with NATO and should be back at their posts within the next few days, said Pakistan army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas. He did not specify the number of troops who would be recalled, but said some would remain at the border centers.
The decision, however, highlighted current problems with coordination because U.S. military officials seemed to think it was another retaliatory move by Pakistan for the NATO strikes. The officials feared it would hamper efforts to liaise with Pakistani forces and increase the risk for another misunderstanding.
U.S. military officials said late Monday that Pakistan was pulling out of at least two of the three centers along the border and expressed concern about the potential impact. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
The U.S. and Pakistan have offered different accounts of what led to the NATO attacks against two army posts along the Afghan border before dawn on Nov. 26, but the deadly incident seems to have been caused in part by communication breakdowns.
The soldiers’ deaths have further strained already tense U.S.-Pakistan relations, threatening Washington’s attempts to get Pakistan to cooperate on the Afghan war.
Pakistan retaliated immediately by closing its Afghan border crossings to NATO supplies, demanding the U.S. vacate an air base used by American drones and boycotting an international conference held Monday in Bonn, Germany, aimed at stabilizing Afghanistan.
Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani told the Associated Press in an interview Monday that Pakistan wants to repair relations with the United States. But there is still simmering anger in the country and ties have steadily deteriorated despite billions of dollars in American aid.
NATO attacks have killed Pakistani troops at least three different times along the porous and poorly defined border since 2008, but the Nov. 26 incident in the Mohmand tribal area was by far the most deadly.
U.S. officials have said the strike occurred when a joint U.S. and Afghan patrol requested air support after coming under fire. The U.S. checked with the Pakistan military to see if friendly troops were in the area and were told there were not, they said.
Gilani said Monday that negotiating new ties with the U.S. would ensure the two countries “respected each other’s red lines” regarding sovereignty and rules of engagement along the border.
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