A lot has been said in the media recently about the “unintentional” NATO air strike against a Pakistan army check-post on this side of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Spokesmen from NATO and the US continue to claim the attack was a mistake, and are asking Pakistan to wait for the results of the investigation into the incident that they have launched. A spokesman for NATO forces, Brig. Gen. Carsten Jacobson, said it was “highly likely” that a NATO strike had caused 24 Pakistani casualties after “a tactical situation” prompted coalition troops to call in close air support. General John Allen, the overall commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan released a statement expressing his “most sincere and personal heartfelt condolences” to the families of “Pakistan security forces who may have been killed or injured” in the attack.
However, General Martin Dempsey, who, as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is the senior-most US military official, while recognising that this issue tests the relationships between the two countries more than any other in the last ten years, has refused to apologise. On the other hand, there are insinuations and leaks aplenty from “unnamed western officials” claiming that the raid may have been “defensive action” against fire from Taliban fighters who were being “shielded” by Pakistan Army positions. This has prompted a series of claims and counter claims, with Major General Ather Abbas, the official Pakistan Army spokesman, calling the incident an “intentional and unprovoked attack” on Pakistani troops by NATO forces.
Many questions are being asked in editorials and talk shows in Pakistan and around the world. Who fired first? Were the check-posts shielding Taliban positions? What impact does the shutting down of NATO supply routes have? Did the attack continue for two hours despite NATO command being informed? All of these leading to the one key question: Why?
Looking at the history of US military errors in the region, one explanation could simply be that, despite having the best technology in the world, they make fatal mistakes all the time. Their might and firepower is, no doubt, tremendous, but their on-the-ground human intelligence is almost non-existent. While they were relying on the ISI to provide this in the past, as the trust deficit grows, this reliance appears to be shifting towards Afghan intelligence, which is often supplemented by information fed from Indian sources.
In the West, the mantra of “we cannot trust Pakistan” is quite usual these days, but my question is, “Can we trust NATO?” Particularly when there are so many examples, just in Afghanistan, where they have fired on and killed civilians, including children.
In May 2010, the US punished six officers and harshly criticised their Air Force drone crew based in the Las Vegas area for an incident in Oruzgan province where 23 civilians died. General Stanley A. McChrystal, the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan at the time, called the civilian deaths “heartbreaking”. An LA Times report into the matter stated:
“A redacted investigative report faulted the Air Force Predator drone crew operating from a Las Vegas-area base for wrongly concluding that three vehicles carrying 30 civilians were insurgents rushing to attack U.S. and Afghan ground units. Using that misinformation, a helicopter airstrike was authorized and many of the civilians were killed.
The rebuke by McChrystal and Maj. Gen. Timothy P. McHale, who wrote the report, was unusually forceful. It focused rare attention on the military’s reliance on unmanned aircraft operated from the United States to supply immediate, life-and-death intelligence to ground forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Defense analysts have long criticized drone operations because the crews have little experience in Afghanistan and cannot always accurately interpret raw data relayed by the aircraft’s powerful cameras. A drone crew consists of a pilot, a camera operator and an intelligence analyst — all seated in ground control stations on Air Force bases in the United States.”
This is just one example in many such mistakes. In February 2010, NATO admitted that they had “unintentionally” killed 12 civilians in Helmand province. The day after that, they had to accept that 5 civilians in Kandahar had died at their hands. Seven civilians, including children, were killed in the same district of Kandahar only a week or so ago.
Their record in Pakistan is no better. NATO helicopters have crossed over the border into Pakistani territory several times in the past couple of years, including the incident in September 2010 when two Pakistan Army soldiers were killed in such a raid, prompting a border closure for nearly two weeks in protest. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism published a study which shows that at least 385 civilians, including 168 children, have been killed by drone strikes in Pakistan. On the other hand, the bureau has only been able to identify 126 named militants killed in these attacks.
My question is, when mistakes are so deadly and so frequent, why should Pakistan and the international community trust NATO anymore?
While we ask these questions, twenty four families are asking, why us? Twenty four hearts are no longer beating. Twenty four lights have been extinguished forever.
Rest in peace, Shaheed Major Mujahid Ali Mirani, Shaheed Captain Usman, Shaheed Subedar Mannan, Shaheed Havaldar Mumtaz, Shaheed Havaldar Aslam, Shaheed Havaldar Mushtaq, Shaheed Lance Naik Raza Mohammad, Shaheed Lance Naik Tariq Mehmood, Shaheed Sepoy Imran Yusuf, Shaheed Sepoy Rizwan, Shaheed Sepoy Ghulam Abbas, Shaheed Sepoy Abdul Razzaq, Shaheed Sepoy Hafiz Manzoor, Shaheed Sepoy Asghar Abbas, Shaheed Sepoy Ahmed Khurshid, Shaheed Sepoy Ibrahim, Shaheed Sepoy Naeem, Shaheed Sepoy Tariq Mehmood, Shaheed Sepoy Nasir Mehmood, Shaheed Sepoy Kiramat Ali, Shaheed Sepoy Najibullah, Shaheed Sepoy Tahir Mehmood. We salute you!