WASHINGTON, Dec. 2, 2011 — Cooperation with Pakistan is essential to the United States, and the Defense Department is working hard to shore up the damaged relationship, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said today.
|Pentagon Press Secretary George Little and Navy Capt. John Kirby brief reporters at the Pentagon, Dec. 2, 2011. |
DOD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo
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The countries’ precarious affiliation ruptured Nov. 26 when a cross-border attack by NATO forces at a border coordination center in Afghanistan’s Kunar province killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. “The relationship with Pakistan remains very important to the United States,” Little said during a briefing for reporters here held with Navy Capt. John Kirby, deputy assistant secretary of defense for media operations. “We think cooperation with Pakistan — on a variety of fronts, to include counterterrorism — is essential.”
Acknowledged “bumps in the road” in the U.S.-Pakistani relationship over the past several months. “But we’re going to work very hard … with our Pakistani counterparts” to ease the latest conflict, said he added.
An investigation of the incident has begun, led by the U.S. Central Command and with Air Force Brig. Gen. Stephen A. Clark from the Air Force Special Operations Command headquarters at Hurlburt Field, Fla., as the investigating officer. Clark is ordered to provide an initial report on the incident by Dec. 23.
NATO’s International Security Assistance Force and the Afghan and Pakistani governments were invited to participate in the investigation, Little said, but the Pakistanis so far have elected not to participate.
In retaliation for the attack, Pakistan has closed two routes through that country that NATO uses to move supplies to troops in Afghanistan, among other steps.
“We certainly look forward to working with Pakistan to get those gates back open,” Kirby said, “[but] logistics is about alternatives, it’s about options, and we’re certainly working through what sort of options we may need to pursue.”
Meanwhile, Kirby said, “we’re going to make sure that our troops have what they need when they need it.”
So far, he added, the route closures have caused “no appreciable impact on our ability to operate inside Afghanistan.”
Pakistan has demanded an apology for the deadly attack, according to news reports.
“We’ve expressed our remorse and our regret for loss of life [in Pakistan] at the highest levels of this department, and other agencies as well,” Kirby said.
“What we aren’t going to do is get into affixing blame or fault right now,” he added. “There is an investigation going on, and we need to let that investigation proceed, [to] let the facts take us where they may.”
Little said the Defense Department is working overtime to try to resolve differences between the United States and Pakistan on this and other matters.
“Let me say in the strongest possible terms that this was not in any way, shape or form an intentional attack by the United States military on Pakistan,” the press secretary said, noting speculation to that effect in media reports at home and in Pakistan.
“The relationship with Pakistan, as I’ve said before, is absolutely critical and essential,” Little said. “We are partners with the government of Pakistan, and the sign of strength in any relationship is how we work through very serious disagreements and incidents.”
“An incident like this draws into sharp relief the risks and clearly the potential for things to go awry,” Kirby said, “but there are innumerable days that have passed where we’ve been able to conduct operations close to that border and things have gone well.”
The Defense Department believes in the importance of such border coordination centers and in constant communication and coordination with the Pakistani military, he added.
“Our hope and our expectation is that, as bad as this is, … we’ll be able to continue the kind of coordination and communication that we were working up to before this incident happened,” Kirby said.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)