WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. military officials are awaiting answers from two military probes into a cross-border attack that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers over the weekend and deeply inflamed U.S.-Pakistan ties, a U.S. official said on Monday.
The incident in the remote area along Afghanistan’s eastern border with Pakistan has complicated U.S. efforts to improve ties with Islamabad and secure Pakistani support for its efforts to wind down the war in Afghanistan.
A U.S. military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that officials conducting an initial NATO investigation into Saturday’s incident had returned to Kabul and were putting their findings together. It is unclear when the findings will be presented.
In part because the facts of the incident remain murky even several days later, U.S. Central Command will dispatch a team to conduct its own investigation, the official said.
“It’s a significant event; we want to get to the bottom of what happened,” he said.
NATO helicopters and fighter jets attacked two military outposts in northwest Pakistan on Saturday, killing the 24 soldiers and wounding 13 others, the Pakistani army said.
Pakistan’s military denied reports that NATO forces in Afghanistan had come under fire before launching the attack.
NATO, which hopes to pull most foreign combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 as the West winds down its military involvement, described the killings as a “tragic, unintended incident.”
To exit smoothly, the United States and its NATO partners will have to stand up an effective Afghan military and ensure that militants sheltering in western Pakistan do not critically destabilize a fragile Afghan government.
Senior U.S. officials say that while they had been hoping that direct communication between Pakistani and Afghan military officials along the border would take root, it has not been happening. Such communication remains facilitated by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
Reporting by Missy Ryan; editing by Vicki Allen