LONDON, Nov. 28, 2011 — Expressing his sympathy for the families of Pakistani soldiers killed by a Nov. 26 airstrike on the border with Afghanistan, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told British reporters here today that NATO and Pakistani officials have been working hard to improve strained relations.
In interviews taped for broadcast tonight, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey told ITV’s Bill Nealy and BBC’s Jeremy Paxman that the incident constitutes “a very challenging issue on both sides.”
“[The Pakistani people] have reason to be furious, because they have 24 soldiers dead, and the ordnance that killed them was the ordnance of a partner,” the chairman said. “But I’d certainly like to enlist their patience to find out what happened and to try to work through this.”
Dempsey said he called Pakistani Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani immediately after hearing of the incident, noting that he and Kayani have known each other since 1988, when both attended the U.S. Army’s Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. He said he promised the Pakistani military leader that NATO will do all it can to investigate the incident and to work with the Pakistani military to ensure this kind of incident doesn’t happen again.
The border incident is the most serious he has been involved with, Dempsey said. Pakistan has closed the border crossings with Afghanistan in protest.
The chairman stressed that Pakistan and the United States have common goals and common interests, and that America’s relations with Pakistan on a military-to-military level are still solid. But, he added, the Pakistani who “doesn’t know the United States, doesn’t read about the United States or just watches something on television about the United States, at that level, [the relations] are probably the worst they’ve ever been.”
Dempsey also discussed the Haqqani network and the threat it poses to American and NATO operations in Afghanistan. He said he doesn’t know what connections exist between the network and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence organization.
“The Haqqani has been in [Pakistan’s federally administered tribal area] for 20 years,” he said. “They’ve set up routes, they’ve built relationships inside of Pakistan [and] they have been supported throughout the years, but whether they are acting at the bequest of the ISI, I’m not prepared to say that.”
U.S.-Pakistani relations “are on about as rocky a road as I’ve seen,” Dempsey acknowledged.
“Is it irretrievable?” he asked. “I don’t think so. I think if we understand the seriousness with which this event is being viewed in Pakistan, and they understand we are taking it seriously, then I think we will have at least the beginnings of a opportunity to find our way through it.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)