Communications Failures Contributed to Border Incident

WASHINGTON, Dec. 22, 2011 — U.S. forces act­ed in self-defense and respond­ed with appro­pri­ate force after being fired upon dur­ing a Nov. 25–26 inci­dent on Afghanistan’s bor­der with Pak­istan, accord­ing to find­ings from a Defense Depart­ment inves­ti­ga­tion that was released today.

Twen­ty-four Pak­istani sol­diers were killed in the inci­dent. Air Force Brig. Gen. Stephen Clark, the inves­ti­gat­ing offi­cer, also found no inten­tion­al effort to tar­get peo­ple or places known to be part of the Pak­istani mil­i­tary, or to delib­er­ate­ly pro­vide inac­cu­rate loca­tion infor­ma­tion to Pak­istani officials.

U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand com­man­der Marine Corps Gen. James N. Mat­tis appoint­ed Clark, the direc­tor of plans, pro­grams, require­ments and assess­ments for Air Force Spe­cial Oper­a­tions Com­mand, to con­duct the inves­ti­ga­tion. Clark briefed the Pen­ta­gon press on tele­phone from Hurl­burt Field, Fla.

Clark said the inci­dent was a result of inad­e­quate coor­di­na­tion between U.S. and Pak­istani mil­i­tary offi­cers oper­at­ing through the bor­der coor­di­na­tion cen­ter. This includes rely­ing on incor­rect map­ping infor­ma­tion shared with the Pak­istani liai­son offi­cer, which result­ed in a mis­un­der­stand­ing about the true loca­tion of Pak­istani mil­i­tary units, DOD offi­cials said. There were oth­er gaps in infor­ma­tion about the loca­tions and activ­i­ties of units on both sides of the border.

Pen­ta­gon Press Sec­re­tary George Lit­tle again expressed the U.S. military’s “deep­est regret” over the loss of life. “We fur­ther express sin­cere con­do­lences to the Pak­istani peo­ple, to the Pak­istani gov­ern­ment and most impor­tant­ly to the fam­i­lies of the Pak­istani sol­diers who were killed or wound­ed,” he said.

U.S. and NATO offi­cials now want to focus on learn­ing from the mis­takes the inves­ti­ga­tion high­light­ed and cor­rect­ing them. But the prob­lem is deep­er than one inci­dent, accord­ing to the report. “We must work to improve the lev­el of trust between our two coun­tries,” the report says. “We can­not oper­ate effec­tive­ly on the bor­der — or in oth­er parts of our rela­tion­ship — with­out address­ing the fun­da­men­tal trust still lack­ing between us. We earnest­ly hope the Pak­istani mil­i­tary will join us in bridg­ing that gap.” The results of the inves­ti­ga­tion have been briefed through the chain of com­mand and also have been shared with Afghan and Pak­istani offi­cials, DOD offi­cials said.

Clark gave a nar­ra­tive on the oper­a­tion. The oper­a­tion was to put 120 per­son­nel into Nawa vil­lage near the bor­der with Pak­istan. Because of the near­ness to the bor­der, the oper­a­tion went up to the Inter­na­tion­al Joint Com­mand in Kab­ul for approval. Army Lt. Gen. Cur­tis Scaparrot­ti, the IJC com­man­der, made some changes to the plan to avoid com­pli­ca­tions. The heli­copter land­ing zone, for exam­ple, was moved far­ther away from the border.

“He also asked any known [Pak­istani] bor­der posts be iden­ti­fied,” Clark said.

Two bor­der posts were iden­ti­fied, but not the ones where the actions sub­se­quent­ly occurred. “That is a crit­i­cal point in part of this in that the two loca­tions that were in ques­tion here were not iden­ti­fied on any chart to include the offi­cial chart in the Nawa Coor­di­na­tion Cen­ter,” Clark said.

The night of the oper­a­tion, U.S. forces moved along goat trails through steep and climb­ing ter­rain toward Nawa vil­lage. “At about 11:09 p.m., they receive … direct and heavy machine-gun fire,” Clark said.

Over­head were two F‑15 Strike Eagles, an AC-130 gun­ship, an MC-12 intel­li­gence, sur­veil­lance and recon­nais­sance air­craft and two AH-64 Apache heli­copters. They iden­ti­fied that the fire and sub­se­quent mor­tar fire was com­ing from the ridge­line. The tac­ti­cal com­man­der called for the AC-130 and an F‑15 to fly low over the val­ley drop­ping flares. The low-lev­el pass­es over the val­ley and the flares “is key for the ground tac­ti­cal lead­ers’ mind­set, in that there should be no doubt in anybody’s mind that it’s now coali­tion forces in the area, which is the intent of the show of force,” Clark said.

Machine-gun and mor­tar fire con­tin­ued, and the tac­ti­cal com­man­der received word that there were no Pak­istani mil­i­tary posts in the area. “This is actu­al­ly the first point where we have found a series of mis­com­mu­ni­ca­tions to have occurred for the tac­ti­cal event,” he said.

Region­al Com­mand East, the bat­tle­space own­er, said they were check­ing with the bor­der coor­di­na­tion cen­ter, “but we are track­ing no Pak mil in the area,” Clark said.

“That was heard at the low­er head­quar­ters as ’no Pak mil in the area’ and radioed to the ground force com­man­der and entered into an elec­tron­ic chat room, which then began cir­cu­lar report­ing back to the region­al com­mand, which then assumed the low­er ech­e­lon had val­i­dat­ed and con­firmed there were no Pak mil in the area,” Clark said.

The gen­er­al said this was the first point of com­mu­ni­ca­tion fail­ure that if had been detect­ed and cor­rect­ed might have pre­vent­ed the incident.

The com­man­der calls for sup­port from the AC-130 onto the posi­tions that were fir­ing on the Amer­i­can troops. That engage­ment lasts about six min­utes. A few min­utes lat­er there is a sec­ond engage­ment with the AC-130 and the Apach­es fir­ing on hasty bat­tle posi­tions — rudi­men­ta­ry bunkers — that are fir­ing on the Amer­i­can forces. That action ends at midnight.

Dur­ing this engage­ment, Pak­istani liai­son offi­cers are call­ing Region­al Com­mand East to say that their forces are under fire. “There is con­fu­sion caused by this because there is a lack of pre­ci­sion on where this is occur­ring,” Clark said. “When asked, the gen­er­al answer back is, ‘Well, you know where it is because you are shoot­ing at them,’ rather than giv­ing a position.”

The bor­der coor­di­na­tion cen­ter has the exact lat­i­tude and lon­gi­tude of the fight. It is put on a com­put­er but the map over­lay was con­fig­ured incor­rect­ly. The com­put­er shows the fight as occur­ring 14 kilo­me­ters away from the actu­al bat­tle. “That’s our sec­ond point of fail­ure in clar­i­fi­ca­tion of where things were going and what has hap­pen­ing,” the gen­er­al said.

There was a third engage­ment begin­ning at about 12:40 a.m. and last­ing through 1 a.m. This was a bit north of the pre­vi­ous engage­ments and cen­tered on a heavy machine gun.

“About that time there was con­fir­ma­tion and clar­i­fi­ca­tion across the net that in fact there were Pak­istani mil­i­tary in the area and that there were bor­der posts,” Clark said. “That word was then relayed down to the ground tac­ti­cal leader, who imme­di­ate­ly ceased engage­ment, and no rounds were fired after that time.” 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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