US apologises at last for Kurram intrusion

ISLAMABAD: The US Ambassador to Pakistan, Ms Anne W. Patterson, on Wednesday apologised for last week’s air raids which left at least two Pakistani soldiers dead and four others injured as International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) admitted its helicopters had violated Pakistan’s airspace several times.A statement of apology issued by the US Embassy’s public affairs section said: “Ambassador Anne W. Patterson today extended an apology to Pakistan on behalf of the American people for the terrible accident on Sept 30.”

This was the first direct apology by a US official, although Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and other functionaries had earlier expressed regrets.A separate statement issued by Isaf Headquarters in Kabul was, nevertheless, less emphatic.We deeply regret this tragic loss of life,” US-led forces commander Gen David Petraeus said.Isaf offers its deepest sympathy and condolences to the families of those killed and wounded, to the Pakistan military, and the people of Pakistan.”

The two statements were put out at the conclusion of a joint Pakistan military-Isaf initial probe into last Thursday’s incident in which two coalition helicopters fired at a Pakistan border outpost.However, it took both sides two days to agree on the wording of the press communique. The final phraseology indicated that Pakistan’s concerns had been largely accommodated.A common aspect in both the releases was a categorical assurance that US-led coalition forces would coordinate with their Pakistani counterparts to ensure that such tragic accidents do not recur.

Sharing findings of the probe, Isaf said: “The (investigation) team concluded two coalition helicopters passed into Pakistan airspace several times. Subsequently, the helicopters fired on a building later identified as a Pakistan border outpost in response to shots fired from the post.”The Isaf director of air plans and assessment, Brig. Gen Tim Zadalis, said: “We believe the Pakistani border guard was simply firing warning shots after hearing the nearby engagement and hearing the helicopters flying nearby.”(“This tragic event could have been avoided with better force coordination with the Pakistani military,” Brig-Gen Zadalis said in a statement issued in Kabul, according to Reuters.)

Diplomatic observers termed the apology by the American ambassador ‘unprecedented’.“It reflects that Washington takes its strategic relationship with Islamabad seriously and was concerned about the strong stance taken by Pakistani civil and military leadership; and the possible repercussions of the aerial incursions,” a diplomat commented.
he separate statement by Ms Patterson is being linked to hectic behind-the-scene efforts by senior Obama administration officials to prevent an impasse with Islamabad, which could have had serious implications for the military operations in Afghanistan.Pakistan’s closure of the Torkham supply route after the helicopter attacks continued for the seventh day on Wednesday.

Although statements by the American ambassador and Isaf were likely to ease tensions between Pakistan and the US, it was not clear when supplies would resume.Agencies add: Earlier reports said three soldiers were killed in the air strike.“We extend our deepest apology to Pakistan and the families of the Frontier Scouts who were killed and injured,” the ambassador said in the statement.“Pakistan’s brave security forces are our allies in a war that threatens both Pakistan and the US.” Pakistan has condemned air strikes on its territory as a violation of sovereignty.It said it suspended Nato supply trucks crossing into Afghanistan via the Khyber region because of “security reasons – Dawn